Metro Manila, 4 provinces to ease into GCQ starting Aug. 19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17) — Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal are set to return to a more relaxed general community quarantine starting Aug. 19 until the end of the month.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 to loosen the lockdown restrictions in the said areas, following the imposition of a 15-day strict modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from Aug. 4 to 18.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque stressed that the easing of the quarantine status in the five high-risk areas comes with recalibrated government strategies against the pandemic.

Roque said these include intensified efforts in testing, the active case finding via house-to-house symptom checks in high-risk communities, an improved contact tracing system, and the setting up of more COVID-19 facilities.

“Ginamit po natin ‘yung dalawang linggo ng MECQ para po pag-isipan kung paano tayo magre-reboot, magre-refresh ng approach, at ito nga po ang gagamitin natin habang nagbubukas tayo ng ekonomiya,” he said.

[Translation: We used the two-week MECQ to assess how we’ll be able to reboot, refresh our approach, and these are what we’ll be doing while we're reopening the economy.]

Under GCQ, measures which limit the movement of the public will still be imposed to prevent viral transmission, but more industries will be permitted to reopen.

The dine-in option in restaurants, as well as religious gatherings at 30 percent capacity, are also allowed under GCQ, as long as health protocols are strictly followed, Roque noted.

Former COVID-19 task force special adviser Dr. Tony Leachon previously said Metro Manila and the four provinces may need another round of MECQ extension, as the country may lose gains in the COVID-19 fight if those areas are placed under a more relaxed lockdown status.

Metro Manila continues to account for the bulk of the new cases reported in the country over the past two weeks. During that time period, around 16,000 more of its residents have caught the viral disease, topping the list of regions nationwide by a wide margin, based on August 17 data from the Department of Health (DOH).

However, according to Roque, a longer period of MECQ is "highly unlikely," as the government grapples to find new sources of funds for poor families affected by strict stay-at-home rules.

Presidential adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion also said that while the return to MECQ in the first half of August is “manageable” for the economic sector, an extension will prove to have some serious effects. Concepcion joined calls for the government to shift to effective granularized lockdowns, saying the move will let citizens “coexist” with the unpredictable virus.

The President’s decision also came a day after the DOH reported another record single-day COVID-19 recoveries on Sunday at over 40,000 new survivors.

The steep rise in recoveries has been attributed to the DOH's time-based recoveries scheme, wherein patients are released from isolation facilities after a certain number of days in quarantine, without needing to take a confirmatory RT-PCR test.

The Philippines now has 164,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19, wherein 49,034 are active cases or currently ill patients, according to the DOH.