Reopening of cinemas suspended to stop surge

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    BY NOEL TALACAY

    METRO mayors have agreed to temporarily suspend the reopening of theaters, cinemas and amusement arcades in the National Capital Region to pull the plug on the increasing number of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the region.

    Benhur Abalos, who chairs both the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Metro Manila Council (MMC), yesterday said the decision came after the 17 local chief executives met with representatives from the Department of Health on Saturday to discuss the current situation in the NCR.

    Abalos told an interview with radio dzBB that the mayors will sign a resolution to keep the businesses closed today.

    “The mayors have agreed not to allow the resumption of cinema and theater operations. They used the term ‘temporarily suspended’ to define the current status for movies, cinemas, and the arcades,” he said.

    Abalos said that during the five-hour meeting, the health experts discussed tackled topics such as possible factors that contributed to the surge in cases and hospital capacities, the severity of the UK and South African virus variants and safety measures to stop the spread of the disease.

    “We are still studying, together with the experts of DOH, on what possible factors could have contributed to the surge of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila,” Abalos also said.

    Data from the DOH show that from the 3,767 cases in Metro Manila as of February 22, the active cases recorded have ballooned to 6,646 as of March 6.

    The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) allowed the reopening of movie theaters and arcades in Metro Manila and other areas under general community quarantine this month. The decision has been postponed following the reservations aired by the MMC.

    Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government is reviewing its protocols on travels, lockdowns and business operations amid the spike of new cases.

    Nograles, who is concurrent co-chairman of the IATF and the National Task Force Against COVID-19, and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, separately, said the government is monitoring the rising cases of COVID-19 in the NCR, the Calabarzon and Central Visayas.

    The health status in the three regions will be used as basis when the government decides on the quarantine status for April.

    “The IATF has issued uniform level of protocols on the borders and travel. Because of the rising cases, we will revisit it. We will also look at the handling of the Bureau of Quarantine, if we need to restrict it,” Galvez said.

    Testing czar and NTF Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon said the IATF will also try to discuss the handling of returning OFWs amid concerns about potential transmissions coming from inbound travelers.

    Galvez and Dizon said that uniform travel protocols may no longer be applicable as it was issued at the time when the number of COVID cases were between 1,000 and 1,500 compared to the present when it has now doubled.

    Galvez said the government is trying to compensate the surge reported in some areas by increasing the number of vaccines being deployed, while Dizon said the government wants a more “aggressive testing and contact tracing” especially in Pasay City and other areas in Metro Manila where more cases of new variants of COVID-19 have been recorded.

    Nograles and Galvez, meanwhile, said local government units are already implementing granular lockdowns where needed.

    Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez yesterday ordered the deployment of more health workers to help city police conduct health monitoring of individuals coming in and out of the city, especially those coming from barangays located near the borders of Pasay City.

    “I was informed by barangay officials from Tambo, Baclaran, Vitalez, Merville and Sun Valley that COVID-19 cases have been quickly spreading in their respective villages since middle of February,” Olivarez said.

    According to data from the City Health Office, recorded cases in barangay Tambo was only at six last February 20. But as of Saturday, the cases have ballooned to 40 cases.

    In barangay Baclaran, the nearest boundary between the two cities, there are now 35 active cases, from only 17 cases last February 25. The village records an average of three active cases daily.

    COVID cases in barangay Sun Valley last February 27 was only three, but the numbers have increased to 28 cases also as of this Saturday.

    The Pasay City government has placed 77 barangays under localized community quarantine after a surge in COVID-19 cases was recorded.

    In Quezon City, business establishments are now required to use KyusiPass, a contact tracing application powered by SafePass, for employees and customers under the QC government’s enhanced contract-tracing effort.

    Mayor Joy Belmonte made the order in a revised GCQ guidelines issued last Friday, in relation to issuances by the IATF and the Department of Trade and Industry.

    “As far as practicable, all business establishments in QC must use our Kyusi Pass app to make contact tracing easier and faster for early detection of the virus,” said Belmonte in a statement.

    Belmonte directed owners of business establishments to secure their dedicated pass per establishment from the Business Permits and Licensing Department.

    “For clarity, a lessee inside a larger establishment, like individual stores inside malls, should have its own contact tracing log,” said Belmonte.

    Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez called on Filipinos to avoid indoor private gatherings, which he said could have also caused the surge in the number of new cases the past weeks.

    “The feedback from the ground (is that) new cases are coming mostly from households,” Lopez said, adding that he would continue to push for localized lockdowns in areas where the surges have been noted.

    He likewise stressed the need for more health protocol compliance in communities and public market areas.

    He added the government will also increase further workplace monitoring and enforcement and will intensify tracing and testing. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Victor Reyes and Irma Isip