Malacañang on Friday defended its decision to place Metro Manila under a general community quarantine (GQC), which will ease quarantine restrictions by June 1, despite the continued rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We need to jumpstart the economy… the government cannot let its citizens stay out of work for too long,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the shift to a GCQ Thursday night.
Roque also said the government can no longer provide financial assistance to the people, saying there are not enough funds to provide such support for a longer period.
“You know, we are also balancing the need of our people to work,” Roque said.
Roque also said that the country’s case doubling time and critical care capacity have increased considerably during the months of strict community quarantine.
The shift comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, but the Health Department attributed the sudden surge in new cases to its increased capacity to validate more cases.
Under the GCQ, almost all sectors will be allowed to operate on a limited capacity after more than two months of lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Transportation Department announced the resumption of limited public transportation, including air and sea travel after Malacanang said Metro Manila and other provinces would fall under a GCQ by June 1.
“The approach of DOTr is partial, gradual and calculated, and more importantly by phases,” Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade said.
Tugade said the agency is concentrated on international flights in and out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, but once the transition to a GCQ begins, international gateways will expand to include Clark, Cebu and Davao.
Tugade said the government is building testing laboratories in Clark and Cebu.
He also said additional international gateways such as Zamboanga, Iloilo, Bacolod and Bohol will be added in the next two weeks.
“This is one way of decongesting what is happening right now in NAIA 1,2,3 and 4,” Tugade said.
Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia welcomed the opportunity to resume regular commercial operations under GCQ status starting June 1.
“PAL is closely coordinating with local and national government authorities on the necessary implementing rules and arrangements to finalize our routes and flight schedules. We intend to start with limited flights on selected routes,” PAL said.
AirAsia also plans to gradually resume domestic operations by June.
“We are currently checking with aviation authorities and respective LGUs for their own guidelines regarding the opening of local airports, as some may still be closed in June,” the budget airline said.
300 P2P buses
Tugade also said the agency is ready to put into operation train and rail services by June 1.
“Don’t expect 100 percent operation. As I said, we have to balance our mandate to provide transportation with our responsibility to help [limit] the spread of the virus,” he said.
Tugade said the average capacity at LRT and MRT will be 10 percent to 12 percent while the Philippine National Railways will be at 20 percent to 30 percent capacity.
The agency will also deploy 300 to 500 buses along MRT stations to support the operations of the rail system.
Tugade said taxis, TNVS and P2P buses will be deployed using cashless transactions to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The operation of public utility jeepneys and buses are still prohibited.
READ: NCR braces for GCQ without buses, jeepneys
Despite the easing of quarantine protocols, the commander of the Joint Task Force COVID Shield said back-riding on motorcycles, even for couples, will not yet be allowed.
“First, it’s a violation of physical distancing, so for now it will not be allowed. Even police will not be allowed to back-ride,” said police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, speaking in Filipino.
Earlier, Ako Bikol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. suggested that back-riding be allowed, since the motorcycle is possibly the only mode of transportation for poor, low-income segments of the population.
Quezon City District 2 Councilor Winston Castelo offered the same suggestion.
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said checkpoints along borders of provinces will remain despite the easing of quarantine restrictions.
People who will travel to provinces for non-work purposes would still be required to obtain a travel pass, he said.
Help desks have been set up in local government units (LGUs) and police stations to disseminate information regarding the travel pass policy, Año said, adding that LGUs would also provide the medical certificate that is required to get a travel pass.
Meanwhile, workers only have to show their company IDs or certificates of employment at checkpoints.
He added that checkpoints have been furnished with a list of industries that are allowed to operate.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI), meanwhile, said it will continue to implement international flight travel restrictions at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) despite the shift to a GCQ.
In a statement, BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said travel restrictions that existed under ECQ and MECQ are still in place unless these are eased or lifted by the government.
He added that most international flights remain suspended as a result of the travel restrictions which affected Filipinos and foreigners alike who wished to enter or leave the country.
“Nonetheless, we assure the public that we are always ready to resume full, normal operations in our international airports once the government decides to ease or lift these travel restrictions,” the BI chief said.
According to BI acting port operations chief Grifton Medina, international flights remain limited since the start of the lockdown in mid-March.
He further disclosed that BI officers at the NAIA currently serve an average of only 20 to 30 flights a day, a third of which are special flights that ferry medical supplies and other kinds of cargo into the country.
As for the passenger flights, Medina said these are mostly repatriation flights that transport returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and chartered sweeper flights that bring foreigners stranded here back to their homelands.
Under existing guidelines approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force Against Infectious Diseases (IATF), only OFWs; Filipino citizens and their spouses and dependents; permanent residents; and foreign diplomats are allowed to enter the country.
All foreigners can leave anytime but Filipinos are not allowed to leave unless they are permanent residents or holders of student visas in their country of destination.
Barbershops, dine-in services
Also on Friday, Roque said the government is formulating a system of accreditation that would allow barbershops to reopen.
Interviewed on Unang Hirit, Roque said whether or not to allow barbershops to reopen has been a contentious issue during meetings of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Roque added that the owners of large barbershops had presented to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez a system on how they would conduct business with health protocols in place, and that the IATF is set to discuss this in the coming meetings.
Also on Friday, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it will be recommending to the IATF he gradual reopening of food establishments’ dine-in services provided they comply with strict health protocols.