Metro Manila eases to GCQ on Monday

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 31) — Metro Manila is set to implement a more relaxed community quarantine on Monday, after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to downgrade quarantine restrictions in the capital.

Duterte's decision on Thursday came after the 17 mayors of the Metro Manila Council earlier voted to ease down protocols from modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to the less strict general community quarantine (GCQ).

Under GCQ, more establishments will be allowed to re-open while those currently operating will be allowed to increase their workforce provided they follow health safety standards, like the wearing of face masks, social distancing, and temperature checks.

GCQ areas considered to be “high risk” due to the number of COVID-19 cases will be subject to “zoning” which will be implemented by the National Task Force on COVID-19.

Quarantine passes are no longer required but travel must still be limited for essential needs. Workers need only to present their company ID or certificate of employment at checkpoints.

Public transportation will be allowed but at limited capacity to ensure social distancing. The government recommends businesses to provide shuttle services for their employees if they are to resume operations.

On Friday, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) Senior Transport Consultant Alberto Suansing told CNN Philippines that the resumption of mass transportation will have two phases. During the first phase, from June 1 to 21, rails and trains will resume partial operations with bus augmentation.

Transport network vehicle services like GrabCar, taxis, and point-to-point buses will also be allowed under certain conditions, while tricycle operations will be subject to the approval of the local government unit. Backriding in motorcycles will remain prohibited.

READ: LTFRB allows over 23,000 taxis and TNVS to resume operations on June 1

P2P buses, shuttle services, and buses for MRT augmentation will only have four pick-up and drop off points along EDSA starting Monday, namely North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, Ayala Avenue, and Taft Avenue.

During the second phase, from June 22 onwards, modern jeepneys may be deployed while some traditional jeepneys will also be allowed to service areas that buses and modern jeepneys cannot reach.

The DOTr said during this period, public utility buses and UV Express vehicles will be permitted to operate but with limited passenger capacity.

Traffic jams are again expected in Metro Manila on Monday, with many people returning to work after being restricted to their homes since the quarantine period. The number coding scheme remains lifted until June 5.

Prof. Guido David of the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics told CNN Philippines on Sunday that the coronavirus curve in the capital region still hasn’t flattened, and that a rise in daily confirmed infections is to be expected under GCQ.

“Sa GCQ, we expect na mag-iincrease pa rin [yung number of cases] kasi hindi madaling ma-contain yung pandemic pag na-increase yung mobility.”

[Translation: Under GCQ, we expect a continued increase because the pandemic will be difficult to contain when mobility also increases.]

Some senators have also shared their concern towards such move given that the country’s testing capacity is still not enough in the scenario that more cases will be recorded after the transition.

“My fear is that the easing of the quarantine may expose thousands of Metro Manila workers and residents to a new wave of community transmission,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a statement.

She added the importance of making sure that safety measures are in place to prevent such scenario like conducting more tests, providing personal protective equipment for frontliners, work-from-home arrangements for those who can, and sufficient transportation options.

Guido has also said that the opening up businesses calls for the government to ensure a bigger nationwide testing capacity, as all reporting employees "will now become frontliners.”

Aside from the absence of mass testing, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan also noted the lack of action towards alleged overpricing and corruption on procurement of testing supplies, while Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson criticized the lack of transparency towards daily reporting of COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, the Health department changed its way of presenting data by separating “fresh” cases, test results released within the last 3 days, from late cases, those released after more than 4 days.

As for Senator Win Gatchalian, he said that realistically, target testing capacities will not be achieved as scheduled and it is up to the individual to protect oneself.

Nasa atin na ang responsibilidad (The responsibility is on us),” he said.

As of May 30, the country has recorded 17,224 COVID-19 cases with 3,808 recoveries and 950 deaths. Total cases in Metro Manila has reached 10,870, with 2,793 recoveries, and 709 deaths.