COVER STORY

EXPLAINER: What you need to know about the COVID-19 alert level system in NCR

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In a shift of pandemic response policy, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases approved the pilot of a COVID-19 alert level system in Metro Manila effective Sept. 16.

Presidential and IATF spokesperson Harry Roque explained during a Palace briefing on Sept. 10 that under the new approach, there will only be two quarantine classifications that could be imposed: enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ).

Roque, however, clarified this GCQ is not like what the public usually knows as restrictions will be based on alert levels assigned to the area.

Authorities said this change is a more effective approach in balancing health and the economy amid the COVID-19 crisis, as degrees of restrictions vary depending on the situation in more specific areas.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government explained that activities with the so-called 3 Cs will be allowed at different capacities under the alert levels. The 3 Cs refer to closed or indoor places, crowded areas, and close contacts.

Covered establishments include dine-in businesses and personal care services. Mass gatherings, meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibits, and indoor tourist attractions are also included in the mix.

The Department of Health will announce the alert levels on a weekly basis under the pilot.

The approved alert level system, whose guidelines were finalized and released on Monday, is comprised of Alert Levels 1 to 5, and the granular lockdown quarantine status. The movement restrictions become stricter as the alert level number increases.

Alert Level 1

The lowest alert level is imposed on areas with low and decreasing COVID-19 case transmission, total hospital bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate.

Movement of persons is permitted except in closed spaces or activities that would require close contact, which may also be identified by the local government units (LGUs).

Establishments and activities are allowed to operate at full capacity in accordance with the minimum public health standards. This will not be applicable for areas under granular lockdown.

Alert Level 2

Movement of persons under this alert level is allowed except for restrictions based on age and comorbidities, as may be determined by LGUs. The restrictions should not be stricter than the rules prescribed in Alert Level 4.

Individual outdoor exercises are allowed in areas under Alert Level 2 regardless of age, comorbidities, or vaccination status.

Dine-in businesses, personal care services, entertainment and recreational venues, mass gatherings, funeral services, meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibits, and indoor tourist attractions are permitted to operate at a maximum of 50% capacity. Those with Safety Seal Certifications will be allowed to operate an additional 10% beyond the prescribed capacity.

Other businesses and activities that are not mentioned above are allowed to operate at a full capacity, except for those areas under granular lockdown. A minimal on-site working capacity is also encouraged for establishments in this category.

Government agencies and instrumentalities shall remain in full operation in these areas and must implement an on-site working capacity of at least 50% mixed with work-from-home arrangements.

Alert Level 3

Areas under this level are those with high and/or increasing case count, and increasing bed utilization and intensive care utilization rates.

Movement shall be allowed for reasonable restrictions based on age and comorbidities as may be determined by the local government. Restrictions should not be stricter than the ones stated under Alert Level 4.

People should be allowed access to essential goods and services, or to work only in permitted industries.

Intrazonal and interzonal travel may be allowed subject to guidelines set by the LGU of destination.

Individual outdoor exercises shall be allowed for all ages regardless of comorbidities or vaccination statues.

Businesses or activities that are allowed to operate or be undertaken at maximum of 30% capacity are: indoor dine-in, personal care services, indoor tourist attractions, indoor venues for MICE, indoor recreational venues, indoor in-person examinations, in-door sports venues, gaming establishments, in-person religious gatherings, funeral services, and social gatherings.

Operations of indoor entertainment venues like cinemas, venues with live performers, and amusement parks remain prohibited.

Those with Safety Seal Certifications are allowed to operate at an additional 10% beyond the prescribed capacity.

All other establishments or activities not mentioned are allowed to operate at full capacity except for those in areas under granular lockdown. Minimal on-site working and flexible working arrangements are also encouraged.

Government agencies shall remain fully operational, while also observing 50% on-site capacity and flexible working arrangements.

Alert Level 4

Persons below 18 years old and over 65 years old, those with health comorbidities, and pregnant women are not allowed to go out of their houses in this alert level. However, they are permitted to go outside if they are buying essential goods or services or working in permitted industries.

Intrazonal and interzonal travel for persons not required to remain at home may be permitted, subject to rules imposed by LGUs.

Individual outdoor exercises are allowed in areas under Alert Level 4 regardless of age, comorbidities, or vaccination status. These should be limited within their place of residence such as barangay, purok, or subdivision/village.

Outdoor dine-in services, barbershops, hair spas, nail spas, beauty salons, and physical religious gatherings are allowed to operate for up to 30% of their outdoor seating capacity regardless of vaccination status.

These establishments and services can operate indoors for up to 10% capacity, but only for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Workers in these businesses and services - along with religious ministers and their assistants - must have completed their inoculation as well.

Government agencies and instrumentalities must remain in full operation in these areas and must follow an on-site working capacity of at least 20% backed with work-from-home arrangements.

Prohibited to operate under this alert level are medical aesthetic clinics, cosmetic or derma clinics, make-up salons, reflexology, aesthetics, wellness, and holistic centers, and other similar establishments, acupuncture and electrocautery establishments, and massage therapy - including sports therapy establishments.

The IATF said home service for these activities are also not allowed.

Indoor sports courts or venues, fitness studios, gyms, spas or other indoor leisure centers or facilities, and swimming pools must remain closed as well. All contact sports are likewise prohibited except for those held under a bubble-type setup catering to the IATF's guidelines and approved by the concerned LGU.

Indoor entertainment venues, venues with live performers, outdoor and indoor amusement or theme parks and kid amusement industries likewise remain prohibited.

Other businesses and activities that are not mentioned above are allowed to operate at a full capacity, except for those areas under granular lockdown. A minimal on-site working capacity is also encouraged for establishments in this category.

Alert Level 5

Areas under this highest alert level are those identified with “alarming” case counts and critical bed and ICU utilization rates.

This will follow the rules being implemented during enhanced community quarantine.

RELATED: EXPLAINER: Metro Manila lockdown: What you need to know

What is a granular lockdown?

A granular lockdown is a smaller-scale quarantine enforced in areas tagged as "critical zones," or high-risk for COVID-19 by the LGU. Under the alert level system, these will last for a "standard" 14 days instead of having varying lengths depending on the LGU.

Instead of placing an entire region or city under stringent COVID-19 rules, only a barangay, a village, a street, a block, or even a house will be covered by a hard lockdown.

Under the approved IATF guidelines, those under the list of Authorized Persons Outside Residence shall remain in their homes in granular lockdown areas.

Those who are allowed to enter and exit in places under granular lockdown are healthcare workers, non-health personnel working in hospitals, uniformed personnel, Filipino migrant workers bound for international travel and those returning to their homes after quarantine completion, and individuals seeking medical attention as checked by a local health officer.

Delivery of food and essential items for those inside the granular lockdown area are allowed as long as the items are dropped at a designated border collection point.

Individuals returning to their homes are also permitted under a granular lockdown rule, provided they will stay at their homes for the lockdown duration.

The implementation of granular lockdown is not new and has been implemented by various LGUs nationwide since last year, on top of more extensive community quarantine restrictions decided by the national government.

Affected households will receive assistance from their respective LGUs and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, according to the IATF.

CNN Philippines digital producers David Tristan Yumol and Bamba Galang contributed to this report.