Expect more checkpoints; MRT-3 suspends operations
President Duterte sought the middle ground with medical frontliners as he approved Sunday night the recommendation to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal back under the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) from August 4 to 18.
Duterte made the announcement after the medical community appealed to revert Mega Manila – which includes the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila), Central Luzon, and Calabarzon – to ECQ as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continues to rise.
In his late-night public address aired Sunday, Duterte approved the recommendation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to place the said areas under MECQ. He explained that he cannot place the entire country under stricter quarantine measures because the government is already “scraping” the barrel.
“Ngayon magsabi kayo i-lockdown mo na ang Maynila at ang ibang lugar sa Pilipinas para wala na mahawa. The problem is wala na tayong pera (You keep on telling me to place Manila and other places in the Philippines under lockdown so there will be no more transmission. The problem is we have no more money). I cannot give anymore food and money to the people,” he said.
Duterte, meanwhile, said he understands the plight of the nurses and doctors who on Saturday asked for “timeout” by placing Mega Manila back to ECQ.
“The cry of the moment, which is really, I believe, well-taken, and they are right,” he said.
“We agree that you are boneweary,” he added. The President said he understands if the healthcare workers would eventually resign but discouraged them from doing so because the country needs them.
“If they do not want to work, we cannot force them. But por Diyos naman. Kung ganito na sitwasyon (for the love of God, now that we are in this situation)… Who are our soldiers? the nurses and the doctors,” he said. “If you cannot go for the extra mile, I am sorry, I can understand you. Pero wala kami matawagan na iba, eh (But we have no one else to turn to),” he added.
He also acknowledged that health care workers should be paid more as they are the “most important people” in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
What MECQ can do
Dr. Guido David of UP Institute of Mathematics and member of the UP-OCTA Research said the return of Mega Manila to MECQ can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
MECQ will limit public transport and work in some industries where virus transmissions recently occurred, David said.
“Makakatulong talaga yan kasi mababawasan yung transmission na nangyayari sa public transportation, sa mga office. Pag lumalabas yung mga tao mas mataas yung infection kasi mas maraming contacts na nangyayari sa mga tao (It [MECQ] will really help because it will lessen the transmission in public transport and office. When more people go out, infection is higher because there are a lot of [physical] contacts happening),” David told DZMM Teleradyo.
Flattening curve impossible
However, David noted that flattening the curve is still not possible because MECQ is “too short.”
“Kung mapapababa natin, babagal din talaga yan sa two weeks na yan. Pero kung flattening the curve, hindi pa siguro kaya kasi masyadong mabilis. Sa Cebu kasi, inabot nang isang buwan pero na-flatten nila yung curve nila… Malaki rin naman yung matutulong nito kasi in theory, in two weeks, pwedeng mawala yung virus kung di talaga nagkakaroon ng transmission.
In theory, kayang mawala yung virus kasi two weeks lang naman yung life span nung virus (If we can lower the transmission, it will really slow down in two weeks. But flattening the curve is impossible, because MECQ is too short.
In Cebu, it took them a month before they flattened their curve… the MECQ will also help a lot, because in theory, the virus can disappear in two weeks if there’s no transmission because the life span of virus is only two weeks),” David added.
With Mega Manila back to MECQ, the Joint Task Force COVID Shield will set up more checkpoints.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, commander of the JTF COVID Shield, said that all police commanders under MECQ areas were already tasked to install checkpoints at the boundary of towns and cities within NCR, Bulacan, Laguna, and Cavite in order to contain the movement of the people.
When Metro Manila and nearby areas were placed under a more relaxed General Community Quarantine (GCQ), the checkpoints were just limited to the boundaries of the provinces and regions.
“We will add more checkpoint operations at the boundaries of cities and municipalities to ensure that only APOR (Authorized Persons Outside Residence) will be allowed to pass,” said Eleazar.
The PNP has a list of APORs based on the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) – the APORs are those who work for basic delivery of goods and other essential services.
Eleazar said that those who are not included in the APOR list are mandated to buy their goods and secure basic services within their community, adding that they will be barred from crossing the boundaries of cities and municipalities for the said purposes.
But he said non-APOR has to secure Quarantine Passes anew from their local government units (LGUs), especially at the barangay level, in order to go out of their houses since under the IATF guideline for MECQ, home quarantine should be strictly observed.
The requirement for quarantine pass was cancelled under GCQ.
“The LGUs are encouraged to issue Quarantine Passes anew to ensure that only one person per household would be allowed to go out to avail basic goods and services,” said Eleazar.
Based on the Omnibus Guidelines on the Implementation of the Community Quarantines issued by the IATF-MEID, public transportation is suspended and only those commissioned shuttle services for employees of permitted offices or establishments, as well as point-to-point transport services provided by the government shall be allowed to operate.
The priority are healthcare workers.
“Private transportation such as company shuttles and personal vehicles utilized by persons authorized outside their residences are allowed subject to the guidelines provided by DOTr (Department of Transportation),” the guideline under MECQ read.
“The use of bikes and other non-motorized transportation is strongly encouraged,” it added.
Individual outdoor exercise such as outdoor walks, jogging, running or biking are allowed within MECQ areas provided, that the minimum health standards and precautions such as the wearing of masks and the maintenance of social distancing protocols are observed.
The guideline also stipulated that there should be limited operations in malls and shopping centers.
Leisure establishments and services, however, will remain closed.
The following shall not be allowed to operate within an area under MECQ:
a. Tourist destinations such as water parks, reservation service and related services;
b. Entertainment industries such as cinemas, theaters, and karaoke bars;
c. Kid amusement industries such as playroom and kiddie rides;
d. Libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers;
e. Gyms, fitness studios and sports facilities; and
f. Personal care services such as massage parlors, sauna, facial care and waxing.
MRT-3 operations suspended
In view of the MECQ, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) will temporarily suspend its operations from August 4 to 18.
In an advisory, MRT-3 said it will resume operations once the National Capital Region (NCR) reverts back to the general community quarantine (GCQ) status.
As this developed, Dr. Tony Leachon, former adviser to the National Task Force (NTF) fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), appealed to the public to voluntarily impose upon themselves an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) mindset.
“At hindi biro-biro merong tinatala araw-araw na 5,000 cases. Ngayon po ang total 103,000 cases at hindi pa natin napa-flatten yung curve at hindi pa dumating yung bakuna (It’s no joke to record 5,000 cases every day. At the moment, there are total of 103,000 cases, the curve has not been flattened, and there is no vaccine yet),” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines. (With reports from Gabriela Baron, Noreen Jazul, and Jeffrey G. Damicog)