For the past six months, Filipinos have been living under various levels of quarantine which are announced at two-week intervals by President Duterte. A month ago, it was a GCQ in Metro Manila. Then it was an MECQ. We are now back in a GCQ.
As a biology professor at UST and a member of the OCTA Research Team, I have become so used to the letters that I often forget that many Filipinos – including my mother who asked me about them this afternoon – simply do not understand them, especially because they are in English.
What do these letters mean? Each of these names indicate different levels of quarantine. An ECQ is the strictest form of quarantine. Think of it as Quarantine Level 5. It is a hard lockdown where everyone stays at home except for essential workers and medical frontliners. Public transportation is not allowed. No large gatherings are allowed. Most of Luzon was in ECQ for two months earlier this year.
An MECQ is one step down from an ECQ. Think of it as Quarantine Level 4. Again, most people are asked to stay at home except for essential workers, medical frontliners, and those working in exempted offices and businesses. Again, public transportation is not allowed. Mass gatherings up to five people are permitted.Essential industries are allowed to work at full capacity, with others operating at a fifty percent (50%) capacity.
Next, there is the GCQ. Think of it as Quarantine Level 3. Most people are allowed to leave their homes for work. However, persons below 21 years old, and above 60 years old or those at high risk for contracting the severe form of COVID-19 are required to stay home. Public transport is allowed with strict social distancing. Gatherings are limited to ten people.
Fourth there is the MGCQ. Think of it as Quarantine Level 2. At this level of quarantine, everything permitted during the GCQ is allowed. In addition, 50% seating or venue capacity is allowed for movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities, religious services, and work conferences.Full operating capacity for work in all public and private offices is permitted.
Then there is the new normal. Think of it as Quarantine Level 1. Here, all public movement is allowed as long as strict social distancing and necessary health guidelines are followed. At this level, there are few numbers of new COVID-19 cases and these patients and their close contacts are quickly identified before the virus can spread.
I think that it is also important for us to understand how the government decides to change quarantine levels. For the most part, increasing quarantine levels occurs when the infection rate in a region or a city is increasing so quickly that our hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Decreasing quarantine levels occurs when the infection rate slows down and our medical frontliners are not crushed.
For example at the end of July, Metro Manila was witnessing a pandemic surge of about 1,500 new cases every day for a week. Thankfully, most of these patients had a mild form of the disease. But enough of them were going to the hospitals in the NCR that our medical frontliners were becoming exhausted. The two weeks of MECQ (Quarantine Level 4) slowed the spread of the virus because everyone was asked to stay at home. This has lowered the infection rate in the NCR, which is why we are now in GCQ (Quarantine Level 3).
Finally, I ask the national government to add numbers to the quarantine levels to help our fellow citizens to understand what they mean. Instead of simply announcing a GCQ, we should call it a GCQ (Quarantine Level 3). An MECQ should be called an MECQ (Quarantine Level 4). By adding numbers to our quarantine levels, we can help our people better understand whether or not the quarantine is getting stricter – numbers going up – or easier – numbers going down. The Filipino people are used to the Typhoon Warning Signal Numbers. We should help them understand the pandemic with COVID-19 Quarantine Level Numbers as well.
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Rev. Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., Ph.D., S.Th.D. is a visiting professor of biological sciences at the University of Santo Tomas, from Providence College in the United States.