What went before: ECQ first imposed in Luzon in 2020

Published March 27, 2021, 6:53 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

Ready or not, Metro Manila and four nearby provinces will return to a strict lockdown this Holy Week to curb the rapid surge in coronavirus cases.

The government finally resorted to the reimposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the most restrictive lockdown that it had repeatedly claimed the weak economy could no longer afford, over the National Capital Region (NCR)-plus before the coronavirus situation goes out of hand.  ECQ will be implemented from March 29 to April 4.

Ahead of the return to lockdown, we look back at how the pandemic turned our lives upside down when the first ECQ was imposed last year.

When the pandemic hit the country last year, the Philippines government decided to place the entire Luzon on strict lockdown in March 2020 in an effort to curb the growing spread of the contagious disease.

“Upon further study of worldwide trends and measures, and the need for extreme caution during such a time as this, I have come to the conclusion that stricter measures are necessary,” President Duterte said in his public address on March 16, 2020. 

 “For this reason, pursuant to my powers as President under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 11332, I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under (community) quarantine until April 12, 2020, coinciding with the entire end of Holy Week,” he said.

Duterte said he could not go into a guessing game” about the outbreak but explained he “have to act.” At the time, the country’s cases reached 142 with 12 deaths.

The Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), that imposed home quarantine and other movement restrictions, was implemented from March 17 and extended until April 30, 2020.

It was kept in several areas with high coronavirus risk until the end of May 2020.

So what is an ECQ?

Under the government’s omnibus guidelines, ECQ refers to “the implementation of temporary measures imposing stringent limitations on movement and transportation of people, strict regulation of operating industries, provision of food and essential services, and heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols.”

The ECQ is considered the most restrictive of the four community quarantine levels enforced by the government to stem the coronavirus outbreak.  The other quarantine classifications depending on the number of COVID-19 cases and critical  care utilization rate are modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), general community quarantine (GCQ), and the modified general community quarantine (MGC).

When it was first imposed in Luzon to contain the coronavirus infections, residents were mandated to stay at home except when accessing basic necessities last year.

Mass public transportation, as well as classes, were suspended, while land, air, and sea travel was restricted.

The government also banned mass gatherings.

Many establishments were advised to wind down operations during the lockdown period except for banks, money transfer services, utilities, telcos, outsourcing and export companies. 

Public markets, supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and drug stores, banks, utility services, were allowed to stay open.

“Everyone will stay at their homes, leaving their houses only to buy food, medicine and other basic necessities for survival in the coming days. Only such establishments that provide these basic necessities and services will be open,” Duterte said in his remarks last year. 

The government was forced to distribute cash subsidies to millions of low-income families to cope with the pandemic lockdown.

The long lockdown, however, took a heavy toll on the local economy, leaving many Filipinos jobless and hungry.

The country slipped into recession last year after the economy suffered deep contraction. 

In recent months, the government appeared reluctant to reimpose a similar  lockdown in the country.

It was worried that such strict lockdown would further weaken the economy and lead to a further rise in hunger, unemployment, and deaths from non-coronavirus illness.

The latest rapid surge in the country’s cases, however, prompted the government to change its mind and impose movement curbs in an urgent move to break the escalating COVID-19 transmission.