Metro stays under GCQ: Stay home, public told

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    COMMON CURFEW. Set between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. PHOTO BY ROLLY SALVADOR

    METRO Manila will stay under general community quarantine (GCQ) in the next two weeks while the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, which were under more relaxed quarantine rules, will revert to GCQ.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced yesterday that President Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to place the National Capital Region (NCR) and the four nearby provinces under GCQ from March 22 to April 4 to slow down the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

    Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal and Laguna are under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until Sunday, March 21.

    The IATF recommendation was contained in Resolution 104, which was signed by co-chairmen Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on March 20.

    Under the resolution, only essential travel in and out of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal are allowed.

    Essential travel refers to those going to and from work and returning to their homes within the four provinces and the National Capital Region.

    Essential workers, on the other hand, include health and emergency frontline services personnel, government officials and government frontline personnel, duly-authorized humanitarian assistance actors, persons travelling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons going to the airport for travel abroad, anyone crossing zones for work or business and going back home, and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWS). These workers just need to show their work IDs to pass the borders.

    Roque said Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal residents who have pre-booked leisure or tourism trips outside of the five provinces will not be allowed to travel at the moment. He said only those travelling for essential purposes, like those going to work or returning to their homes from work, will be permitted.

    “Hindi kayo makakasakay unless mapatunayan ninyo na essential travel (You will not be allowed to board unless you can prove that it is an essential travel),” he said when asked about air travels.

    He said public transportation will remain operational subject to capacity limits and health protocols, while biking and walking are also encouraged. Transportation protocols such as the wearing of masks and face shields, no talking and making phone calls while in a public transportation, no eating, conducting of frequent disinfection, non-transport of passengers with COVID-19 symptoms, and compliance with physical distancing rules shall be strictly enforced.

    Also under the resolution, Roque said “visiting persons outside their immediate family or other households is strongly discouraged” while the elderly and other vulnerable members of the household are encouraged to wear masks even inside their homes.

    The IATF said persons below 18 years old and above 65 years old, those with immunodeficiency, comorbidity, or other health risks, and pregnant women who live in the GCQ areas are “required to remain in their residences at all times” unless for essential activities such as buying essential goods and services, or travelling for work in their respective industries and offices.

    Persons above 65 years old may also be allowed to go out for outdoor non-contact sports and other forms of outdoor exercises, while persons with disability (PWD) may be allowed outdoors for their therapy and outdoor non-contact sports and other forms of outdoor exercises. They must present a prescription from their physicians or presentation of a PWD ID.

    A common curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. has also been imposed in the five covered areas, with the exemption of workers, cargo vehicles, and public transportation.
    Roque said all mass gatherings, including religious gatherings, are prohibited and the holding of face-to-face meetings are highly discouraged, while virtual meetings are encouraged. Weddings, baptisms, and funeral services are allowed provided that the attendees are up to a maximum of 10 persons only.

    The IATF likewise asked the private sector to adopt similar alternative arrangements that the executive branch of the government is practicing, which include limiting on site capacity operation to 30 percent to 50 percent, encouraging work from home and virtual meetings, and avoiding face to face meetings and group meals in the workplace.

    The resolution again limited services of restaurants, cafes and establishments to delivery and take-out. Those with outdoor or al fresco dining capabilities shall be allowed to operate up to 50 percent the capacity, provided that additional engineering and administrative controls are put in place such as but not limited to, placing of acrylic or similar dividers, limiting to two persons per table with appropriate seating arrangements or a one-seat apart in a diagonal configuration.

    The operations of businesses such as driving schools, traditional cinemas and video and interactive game arcades, libraries, archives, museums, and cultural centers, gyms, limited social events at accredited establishments of the DOT, and limited tourist attractions except open-air tourist attractions, cockfighting and cockpit operations have also been temporarily suspended in the five areas.

    Cockfighting and cockpit operations in areas under MGCQ are also temporarily suspended.

    Roque apologized to the public for the inconvenience, including those with travel plans during the Holy Week period, stressing that the government needs to take radical steps to bring down the number of infections and prevent the further spread of the virus.

    The country reported on Sunday, 7,757 new infections, down from Saturday’s record-high of 7,999 confirmed cases. The country breached the 7,000 record on Friday with 7,103 confirmed infections.

    A memorandum issued by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on March 21 directed the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to make sure that all local government units (LGUs) throughout the country strictly monitor minimum public health standards adherence, including in the homes, as well as distribute masks and face shields to the vulnerable sectors.

    The DILG was likewise ordered to ensure adherence to health protocols in the workplaces, as well as make sure that protocols for isolation/quarantine are completed by the patients before facilitating reintegration with the community.

    STAY HOME

    As Malacañang issued Resolution 104, the Department of Health called on the public to suspend all non-essential travel and just stay in their homes.

    “The public is urged to suspend all non-essential travel and reduce contact rate with people outside of your household,” said the DOH in a statement, adding that even when at home, it is imperative for the people to practice minimum public health standards.

    “Everyone is called on to wear their masks properly, and to observe other preventive strategies, at all times and in all settings, even at home, especially when living with other persons, especially the vulnerable,” it said.

    The DOH, similarly, urged all households to ensure sufficient ventilation at home.

    “All households must ensure adequate fresh air circulation by opening windows and using fans to allow increased air flow,” said the DOH.

    And for those who will experience COVID-19 symptoms, they are encouraged to immediately coordinate with their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) for appropriate management and referral for testing and isolation.

    “All individuals experiencing mild symptoms can adequately be taken care of at designated quarantine or isolation facilities. Let us help free up space in hospitals for those who most need it,” said the DOH.

    The DILG echoed the DOH’s appeal, with Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya saying: “The DILG asks the public to defer all non-essential travel to the provinces while we have this surge of cases.”

    Malaya said the department if aware of majority of the public’s Holy Week plans, but said such travels are not timely to pursue. “Let’s help our medical frontliners address this concern. Let us defer all movements that can be deferred until such time we have controlled the surge of COVID-19 cases,” he said.

    Malaya said the response cluster of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 is due to meet today to discuss possible travel restrictions amid the surge in COVID-19 cases.
    Sen. Christopher Go, chairman of the Senate committee on health, urged authorities to consider imposing stricter measures on top of community quarantine protocols to control the rapidly rising number of infections while finding a viable balance between protecting people’s lives from the threats of COVID-19 and ensuring that operations of essential public services and industries remain unhampered.

    Go said essential and even non-essential services and industries can remain operational to support the economy but must be subjected to strict adherence to safety protocols and minimum public health standards.

    “We should have learned from our experiences the past year. We have placed the country under enhance community quarantine, businesses were closed a number of times. If we go back to a stricter measure, let us do it without burdening our countrymen,” Go said.

    LOCKDOWNS

    Manila Mayor Isko Moreno yesterday announced 16 barangays in Manila will be under a four-day lockdown starting March 24 due to increased COVID-19 cases. Barangays with 10 or more cases are automatically put under lockdown, based on existing Manila City ordinances.

    The barangays under lockdown are 1, 84, 493, 669, 50, 192, 515, 790, 106, 209, 586, 875, 109, 296, 636, and 883. The lockdown will be until March 27.

    Moreno reiterated his call for the public to adhere to health protocols by wearing face masks and face shields and maintaining physical distancing in public places.

    Moreno said the current occupancy rate in the city’s quarantine facilities stood at 88 percent, with 499 beds occupied out of the city’s 570-bed capacity.

    The Manila City Health Department has continued to record an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the city with 631 new cases yesterday. On Saturday, 616 COVID-19 cases were recorded.

    Relatedly, the military’s general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo was put on lockdown yesterday, according to AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo. The lockdown started Sunday morning,

    The dioceses of Novaliches and Cubao, both in Quezon City, have voluntarily placed their churches under lockdown for the remainder of the Lenten Season.

    In separate statements, Novaliches Bishop Roberto Gaa and Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco both said they are shutting down their respective dioceses for the period of March 22 to April 4, 2021.

    “Beginning Monday, March 22, 2021, I ask that our parish churches go online streaming for our Holy Masses and other religious and spiritual activities… We shall resume our activities, on site, on Easter Sunday, April 4,” said Gaa.

    “With the rising surge of cases of infection swirling around us, the Diocese of Cubao has decided to declare a lockdown of its parish churches for the period March 22 to April 4, 2021… We will reopen for public worship on April 5, Easter Monday,” said Ongtioco.

    Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) urged employers to adopt a work-from-home policy in the workplace.

    Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said they are hoping that more companies will adopt or revive the policy in a bid to help stem the spike in COVID-19 cases. – With Gerard Naval, Victor Reyes, Raymond Africa and Ashzel Hachero