The government may reimpose a total lockdown if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in areas where quarantine restrictions have been eased, the Department of Health said Sunday.
This warning was issued after health officials noticed the huge number of people who flocked to shopping malls in Metro Manila and nearby provinces as the government eased quarantine rules.
Various photos on social media showed a number of people, mostly in groups or families, roaming around the shopping centers following the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) during which malls and similar establishments were closed for two months.
“This is actually a shifting or transitioning so that we can gradually lower the restrictions of the community quarantine. But if we see after this a sudden surge in cases, there is a big possibility that we will need to do another total lockdown,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
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Shopping centers and malls in Metro Manila were allowed to partially open under the general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified ECQ rules beginning Saturday.
Vergeirie said she is hoping that the guidelines and health protocols set for these establishments would be followed, including the physical distancing and wearing a face mask.
Vergeire reminded people that regardless of the classification an area falls into, the whole country is still under quarantine.
“What we should always remember is that we are all under a community quarantine, whether it is modified or general, all areas of the country are still under a community quarantine,” she said.
Vergeire also reminded people they must continue to act responsibly, despite the easing of some restrictions.
The modified ECQ policy started from May 16 to May 31 in Metro Manila, Laguna, and Cebu City.
Presidential Spokesman Secretary Harry Roque, Jr. said under a modified ECQ, there are more sectors and industries that will be opened, mostly with 50 percent of employees allowed to work on-site. Previously disallowed sectors like malls and commercial centers for non-leisure services will now be allowed under the modified ECQ.
In modified ECQ areas, there will still be no public transport and domestic flights, except for limited international flights, and inbound travel will be controlled, and only overseas Filipino workers and returning Filipinos will be allowed.
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Biking and non-motorized transport are encouraged, and there will still be no inter-island travel.
Schools will still be closed in modified ECQ areas. Government work will still be done by a skeleton staff onsite while most employees will work from home.
Since public transport is still disallowed, frontline workers or those who will return to work in allowed industries under the modified ECQ will have to take the public shuttle for frontline workers, or companies will have to provide shuttle service.
With the easing of some quarantine restrictions and the opening of more industries, Roque underscored the importance of following the minimum health standards in accordance with the government’s National Action Plan on COVID-19.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said malls that violate physical distancing measures and curfew will be closed.
DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said local officials and the government’s Joint Task Force COVID Shield have been instructed to inspect malls to see if they are complying with government’s quarantine protocols.
“If the malls are not able to comply with the minimum health standards, the PNP (Philippine National Police) can close the malls and charge the mall owners with violation of the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act,” Año said.
Año also advised the public to bring with them identification cards as police checkpoints will remain in all areas under community quarantine.
“The general rule continues to be ‘stay at home’ unless accessing essential services or going to work in permitted industries. Those found to be unauthorized will be fined, issued citation tickets, or detained if they refuse to go home,” he said.
A spokesman for the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 expressed alarm over the crowds that appeared in malls.
READ: Villar, Isko, Belmonte balk at modified ECQ for NCR
In an interview on Dobol B sa News TV, Restituto Padilla, task force spokesman, reminded the public to remain cautious against possible transmission of the virus.
Heavy traffic developed in parts of Metro Manila and Luzon on Saturday as quarantine rules were eased.
Heavy traffic built up on EDSA-Balintawak going to the North Luzon Expressway as motorists hoped to travel to the provinces. Those on non-essential travel and who had no travel pass or rapid pass were turned back, however.
In related developments:
* A party-list lawmaker called on the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to exclude from COVID-19 coverage patients who are found to have contracted the disease due to irresponsible or reckless behavior. Puwersa ng Bayaning Aleta party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles issued this call as he said he was shocked to see people flocking shopping malls and not observing proper social distancing as most of the country shifted from ECQ to a modified ECQ or GCQ.
* President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to return to Manila on or before Tuesday to attend a scheduled meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) in Malacañang on the COVID-19 situation. Roque said the President’s visit to his hometown, Davao City, will be a short one since he has to prioritize work. Duterte’s former aide and now Senator Christopher Go accompanied Duterte on his trip to Davao City, he added. He justified Duterte’s travel to his hometown, saying he was also there to assess the situation in Mindanao, which is now under a GCQ.
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