The National Capital Region is shifting gears for its switch to modified general community quarantine from its existing general community quarantine status to open more economic activities.]
This, as Metro Manila mayors strongly opposed and have voted unanimously against the reopening of cinemas.
Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority made the statement Saturday in reaction to an article, which stated that the planned reopening of cinemas would still push through.
“Whether we are under GCQ or MGCQ status, let us not lose sight of the safety and health protocols against COVID-19 such as wearing of face mask and face shield; frequent hand washing; observance of physical distancing; and use of alcohol to sanitize,” said Abalos Jr.
According to Abalos, majority of the 17 mayors in Metro Manila were in favor of lessening the restriction in NCR next month to open up the economy and help the people hardly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
But the MMDA chief urged the mayors to remind their constituents to continue to follow health and safety protocols, saying local executives played a big role in this issue.
“If you open the economy, we also need to factor in safeguards. It is a big challenge for the government to keep the economy going while keeping the people safe and healthy,” he said.
“We cannot allow the government’s gains in controlling the spread of the virus be put to waste. We must balance the economy and health for everyone’s safety,” he added.
Meanwhile, at least 33 barangays in Pasay City were placed under tight watch beginning last Friday following the surge of COVID-19 cases there.
“The city government will implement a control and containment strategy following a rise in the number of cases unseen during the past several months,” the Pasay City public information office stated in its advisory.
On Feb. 19, the local government recorded about 269 cases of COVID-19, which figures it said were way above the daily average of between 30 and 50 cases per day.
This prompted Mayor Imelda Rubiano to impose a 14-day localized lockdown in at least 33 barangays and one business establishment. She wants barangays with three or more cases locked down to contain the virus.
Rubiano directed the police commander and barangay officials to ensure residents followed the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) as well as ordinances passed by the Pasay City council.
She also tapped members of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, the Tricycle-Pedicab Franchising and Regulatory Office, Traffic and Parking Management Office, and public market officials to enforce IATF protocols.
The Business Permits and Licensing Office inspection teams will also check on establishments to see if they also comply with the health and safety guidelines.
“COVID-19 continues to infect many of our people. Please follow the health protocols as directed by the city government as well as the national government thru the IATF,” said Rubiano.
The city chief executive also reminded business establishments to ensure that their customers have face masks and to see to it that one of their personnel or security guards are checking physical distancing while queuing.
Abalos said the 17 mayors, which composed the Metro Manila Council, filed a motion for reconsideration with regard to the government’s position on the matter.
“The Metro Manila mayors are united that now is not the right time to reopen the cinemas. However, we will support and respect the final decision of President Duterte on the matter,” said Abalos.
He said in the event that the final decision would be to allow the reopening of the cinemas, it is the Metro Manila mayors and not the MMDA, who would determine the seating capacity they will impose on cinemas within their jurisdiction.
“They have full discretion as to the guidelines. The 20 to 30 percent seating capacity mentioned in the article was just the suggestion of the economic team and not in any way the proposal of MMDA,” said the MMDA chief.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) earlier deferred the plan to reopen cinemas after Metro Manila mayors opposed the move.
Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said all the mayors were apprehensive with the recommendation on the opening of cinemas under General Community Quarantine because it did not go through “proper consultation”.
He pointed out that local government units in Metro Manila were consulted by IATF regarding other matters. However, the IATF failed to consult them for the specific issue of reopening cinemas.
Meanwhile, a senior Department of Health official said local government units should step up COVID-19 response measures in case the national government decided to further relax country-wide quarantine protocols.
In a public press briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said LGUs should already be capable of undertaking localized COVID-19 response with or without a shift to relaxed quarantine restrictions.
“No matter what risk classification or community quarantine level na ibibigay sa atin, the LGUs should have the capability to do localized response,” Vergeire said.
The country’s economic managers have pushed for a Philippine-wide shift to MGCQ— the most relaxed out of the 4 quarantine restrictions set by the government.
The country’s pandemic task force and mayors of Metro Manila, the epicenter of the virus, agreed on relaxing quarantine restrictions after expressing hesitation on the effects it may have on COVID-19 transmission.
Experts and some mayors have previously warned against relaxing quarantine restrictions because of the possibility of another surge in COVID-19 cases, saying it would be better to wait for the arrival of vaccines first.
The Philippines aims to inoculate 70 million people and hopes to buy 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from various drug makers.
At the same time, the DILG expressed support for placing all of the country under the modified general community quarantine — the lowest restriction level— to address “fragmented” travel regulations across localities.
In a statement, the DILG pointed out the “urgent need” to streamline various travel measures enforced by local government units (LGU) to stem the spread of COVID-19, describing some as “redundant.”
“[The agency sees] the urgent need to remove redundancy in domestic tourist travel requirements and impose less stringent requirements by managing the health risks through other means,” the statement read.
DILG Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said Filipinos have been “confused” about travel regulations because they vary by province, noting that some provinces or LGUs require RT-PCR testing, while others use antigen tests.
“Some even require [a] 14-day quarantine regardless of PCR result. We need the regulations to be streamlined and placing the country under one classification would help in the on-going harmonization,” Malaya said.
Meanwhile, the OCTA Research Group said a more gradual approach to easing quarantine restrictions is needed to prevent a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila, as authorities eyed a shift to the lowest restriction level.
OCTA research fellow Guido David said their group is not against placing Metro Manila under modified general community quarantine, but added that the timing was still premature.
“We want a gradual approach so we can balance the risk factors and the economy,” Davod said.
Metro Manila mayors and the inter-agency task force leading the country’s COVID-19 response have reached an agreement to place the National Capital Region, the country’s pandemic epicenter, under MGCQ next month. By March, it would be a year since the government enforced quarantine in the country in a bid to contain the virus.