After months of strict stay-at-home rule, minors will be allowed to go to shopping malls as long as they are accompanied by their parents, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said Monday.
Año announced the government intends to ease the age-based stay-at-home restriction during a meeting with President Duterte and other Cabinet members, who are also part of the pandemic task force. The concerned local government units are expected to issue the relevant ordinances on the matter.
“Para na rin po sa Kapaskuhan ay doon po sa pinag-utos natin na puwede ng gradual expansion ng mga age group para makalabas. Ang mga minors po, basta accompanied ng mga magulang, ay papayagang makalabas at makapunta sa mall (This Christmas, we have ordered the gradual expansion of the age group allowed to leave the house. Minors may be allowed to go out of the house and go to malls if accompanied by their parents),” Año said in his remarks aired on state television.
“Ito po ay pagtitibayin sa mga ordinansa ng ating mga NCR (National Capital Region) mayors sa lugar po ng GCQ (This will be implemented through the ordinances that will be issued by NCR mayors, areas under GCQ),” he said.
“Aside from malls, they will also be allowed in parks because we should also give the children the chance to go out because this community quarantine has been going on for the past nine months,” said Lt. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag, commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield.
Family reunions are mass gatherings
Año also said that the government is discouraging large family reunions during the holiday season to prevent a sudden spike in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.
He said big family reunions are considered “mass gatherings” that are currently prohibited by the government pandemic task force.
Any holiday celebration should instead be kept among immediate family members to avoid the spread of the coronavirus infection, Año added.
No Christmas caroling
“Katulad po ng plano na hindi po papayagan ang Christmas party, hindi rin papayagan ang Christmas caroling, wala pong mass gathering. Iyon pong family reunion ay isang considered na mass gathering (Like the plan to disallow Christmas parties, Christmas caroling will be prohibited. There will be no mass gathering. Family reunion is considered a mass gathering),” he said during a meeting with President Duterte and other Cabinet members at the Malago clubhouse Monday night.
“Katulad po ng sabi ni (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque (III), immediate family na lang sana ang mag-celebrate ng Christmas together. At kailangan po ang minimum health standard ay ipatutupad (Like what Secretary Duque said, just celebrate Christmas with the immediate family. Minimum health standards must also be implemented),” he said.
These holiday restrictions are among the proposals of local government units in Metro Manila to curb further spread of the coronavirus in communities during the holidays, according to Año.
“Ngayon pong darating na Pasko, ang ating mga LGUs at lalo na po ang mga NCR mayors ay nagsisipaghanda para sigurado na mabantayan po natin itong COVID (This coming Christmas, our LGUs, especially the NCR mayors, are preparing to guard against the COVID outbreak),” he said.
Prior to the DILG secretary’s remarks, President Duterte decided to extend the implementation of General Community Quarantine (GCQ) in Metro Manila for the month of December.
Seven other places have been placed under GCQ from Dec. 1 to 31. All other places in the country will be under the most relaxed Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).
Earlier, Metro Manila mayors recommended the extension of the GCQ in the capital region until the end of the year to prevent a spike in coronavirus cases.
The mayors also reportedly agreed to allow children under 15 years old to dine in restaurants with their parents.
Under the present IATF guidelines in GCQ areas, a person below 15 years old and those above 65 years old, those with immunodeficiency, comorbidity, or other health risks, and pregnant women are required to remain in their residences at all times, except when obtaining essential goods and services.
The same age-group restriction applies in places under MGCQ. The IATF however recently agreed the age restrictions for tourists may be relaxed by local government units in these places subject to the consultation of the tourism, health, and interior and local government departments.
The government recently moved to further open up the economy that included increasing business operations and public transportation capacity to stimulate economic activities and employment. It has also eased travel restrictions while endorsing efforts to shorten curfew hours and ease the stay-at-home rule for some young and senior people.
Keep safe at home this Christmas
Meanwhile, medical professionals are urging the public to observe precautionary measures in celebrating Christmas through gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In virtual press conference Monday, members of the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) urged Filipinos to plan and reconsider attending big social gatherings.
“We can all still celebrate this Christmas season by planning carefully and remaining vigilant in protecting ourselves and our families against COVID-19,” said Dr. Antonio Dans, convenor of the HPAAC.
“Ideally, we should all keep safe at home and just celebrate with members of our own household,” he said.
In the briefing, Dans warned that COVID-19 infections could increase if people are not mindful of the persisting threats of the pandemic.
He noted the majority of the COVID-19 cases are mild cases or asymptomatic. He said that in their study, four of every 100 persons are infected with COVID-19 and are either asymptomatic or only experiencing mild symptoms.
“Paano natin i-protect sarili natin sa kanila kasi ‘di naman nila alam (How do we protect ourselves when they do not even know they have COVID-19)?” he raised.
Dans advised the public to limit their Christmas parties to immediate family members within the same household. If gatherings with friend or other relatives cannot be prevented, he suggested that they opt for outdoor activities or meet-ups in restaurants with outdoor dining.
The HPAAC appealed to mayors and other local government officials to allow dining establishments to set up tables on sidewalks and set up open markets to ensure safe distancing.
The group also reminded the public to observe physical distancing of at least 1 meter and wear face shields and face masks.
People should likewise shorten their interactions to 15 minutes to a maximum of 30 minutes to prevent possible transmission of the virus.
Echoing the health professionals, Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire urged the public to consider others before deciding to go out or attend gatherings.
“The virus is still here. Walang nagsasabi na titigil ang Pasko (No one says that Christmas will stop). Meron tayong options (But we have options),” Vergeire said in the same press briefing.
“Let us try to be selfless. Lahat ng gawa natin ay nakakaapekto sa iba (Everything we do affects others)…Gawin natin para sa ating sarili, family and ating healthcare workers (Let’s do this for ourselves, for our family and
our healthcare workers). We each have our own responsibility and accountability,” she added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque also said the same for those who are planning to travel to provinces to celebrate Christmas.
“Tandaan natin ang laban sa COVID-19 ay laban ng bawat mamamayan. Hindi po ito laban lang ng gobyerno, o ng non-governmental organizations, kung hindi laban ‘to ng bawa’t Pilipino (Remember, the fight against COVID-19 is the battle of every citizen. This is not just a battle for the government or non-governmental organizations, but for every Filipino),” Duque said during the Laging Handa public briefing. (With reports from Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola and Aaron B. Recuenco)