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Lockdown eased in NCR

Alert Level 4 sets calibrated reopening; experts wary of new surge

The success of the government’s new Alert Level system against the coronavirus pandemic—which intends to spur the economy despite fears it may add to the current surge of COVID-19 cases—will depend on how local government units implement the granular lockdowns in their areas, the president of the Philippine College of Physicians said Tuesday.

HIGH TIME. Food attendant at a high-end restaurant in Alabang prepares a  table set-up ahead of the easing of quarantine controls effective Sept. 16 with Metro Manila under "Alert Level 4". This means restaurants can allow 10% capacity  for dine-ins or 30% for  al fresco dining.  Together with the partial opening of non-essential businesses, the government expects to  bring P100 million a week into the pandemic-hit economy but experts caution  against premature relaxation of curbs, fearing a sharp upsurge in infections.
Metro Manila will be under Alert Level 4 during the first week of the pilot implementation of the COVID-19 Alert Level System, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Tuesday.

Under Alert Level 4, persons below 18 years old and above 65 years old, those with immunodeficiencies, comorbidities, or other health risks, and pregnant women are not allowed to leave their homes except to obtain essential goods and services and to work in permitted industries and offices.

But Dr. Maricar Limpin, PCP president and one of Malacanang’s health advisers, said LGUs “maybe need to employ people to make sure that guidelines are strictly implemented during granular lockdowns.”

“I think granular lockdowns are important. Maybe it can help. In fact, one of the things we look at even before is the clustering of lockdowns so that the implementation of lockdowns is not too widespread. But we need details on how they will be implemented,” she noted.

It dovetailed with statements from an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) that advised against relaxing mobility restrictions in the National Capital Region (NCR) even as vaccination coverage continues to improve.

“We have significant population coverage within NCR. I believe it’s about 60 percent now. But this is not adequate at this point to relax quarantine positions,” WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in an online briefing.

“Now, you may recraft the terminology, but basically what we are advising is make sure that those restrictions are followed, that we don’t relax too much because we are not in a position where we can relax and experience further worsening of this transmission level because our health systems are just holding up,” he said.

Abeyasinghe warned that a further increase in the current transmission levels could overwhelm the health care systems.

Under Alert Level 4, the following are not allowed to operate:

• Indoor visitor or tourist attractions, libraries, archives, museums, galleries, and cultural shows and exhibits; indoor venues for meetings, incentives, conferences, events; indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, and venues with live performers such as karaoke bars, bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters.

• Outdoor and indoor amusement parks or theme parks, fairs or “peryas,” kid amusement industries such as playgrounds, playroom, and kiddie rides; indoor recreational venues such as internet cafes, billiard halls, amusement arcades, bowling alleys, and similar venues and staycations.

Outdoor or alfresco dine-in services in restaurants and eateries are allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity, regardless of customers' vaccination status, while indoor dine-in services may be allowed at 10 percent capacity, only for fully vaccinated individuals.

Personal care services limited to barbershops, hair spas, nail spas, and beauty salons are allowed to operate at 30 percent, if these services are conducted outdoors, regardless of customers' vaccination status while indoor services are at 10 percent capacity, only for fully vaccinated persons.

Outdoor religious services are allowed at 30 percent capacity, regardless of vaccination status. Indoor religious gatherings, meanwhile, may be allowed at a limited 10 percent venue or seating capacity, only for fully vaccinated individuals.

Gatherings for necrological services, wakes, inurnment, funerals for those who died of causes other than COVID-19 be limited to immediate family members.

Government offices will remain fully operational with at least 20 percent on-site capacity with the implementation of work-from-home and other flexible work arrangement schemes.

Año said there will be no surprises in the imposition of the granular lockdowns under the new alert system, as LGUs have long identified the areas that will be placed under this particular restriction.

He said local governments have the authority to declare a granular lockdown, which will last two weeks to prevent further transmission of the disease.

During this period, the authorities will conduct aggressive testing and contact tracing and separate positive cases, especially asymptomatic ones, and identify their close contacts and place them under quarantine for 14 days.

Only health care workers and returning and leaving overseas Filipino workers will be considered as Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APOR) in areas under a granular lockdown.

Under the new guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Monday night, the new quarantine classifications that will be piloted in Metro Manila will have five Alert Levels that would determine the activities allowed in cities and municipalities.

These include:

•  Alert Level 1 - refers to areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, and the total bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate are low.

•  Alert Level 2 - refers to areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, health care utilization is low, or case counts are low but increasing, or case counts are low and decreasing but total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate is increasing.

•  Alert Level 3 - refers to areas wherein case counts are high or are increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit use rising.

•  Alert Level 4 - refers to areas wherein case counts are high or increasing, with a high total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate.

•  Alert Level 5 – refers to areas wherein case counts are alarming, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at a critical level.

Malacañang on Tuesday said the guidelines for the pilot implementation of granular lockdowns and alert level system in Metro Manila are “deemed approved” under an already existing executive order.

The Department of Health (DOH), meanwhile, said it would ramp-up active case finding, conduct risk-based testing using RT-PCR, and speed up vaccination among high-risk groups. There will also be intensified granular lockdowns from barangay down to the household level to contain transmission, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

Mayors in Metro Manila have agreed to impose unified curfew hours from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. while the National Capital Region is placed under Alert Level 4 status beginning Thursday (Sept. 16).

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. said the local chief executives made the decision in a recent Metro Manila Council (MMC) meeting.

The MMC, the governing board and policy-making body of the MMDA, is composed of the 17 mayors in the NCR.

The new curfew hours are two hours shorter than the previous 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. period implemented during the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, meanwhile, called on the DOH to review its tagging mechanism of COVID-19 cases as hospital admissions could affect an area's quarantine classification.

Zamora told ABS-CBN News that the DOH should classify patients based on their place of residence and not the address of the hospital where they are confined.

Zamora said many patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 in the city are from outside the capital.

At the Cardinal Santos Medical Center, a tertiary hospital in San Juan, 81 percent of COVID-19 patients last week were from other provinces, he said. All these cases were included in San Juan, raising the city’s alert level.

A workers and farmers party-list group said the new Alert Level 4 in Metro Manila was “no more than a lockdown of rights.”

The IATF, the Anakpawis party-list group said, is running around like a headless chicken implementing new guidelines every so often at the public's disadvantage. “The people are dismayed over the lockdowns and the failure of the government,” said Anakpawis national president Ariel Casilao.

“Without financial assistance and mass testing, the alert level is worthless,” he said in Filipino. “Only a health-centric approach to the pandemic coupled with real economic stimulus will uplift us from his situation.” “Our health workers are exhausted. Small and micro businesses have slipped into bankruptcy. Workers and farmers are not getting any significant economic relief and assistance. The Health secretary is incompetent and corrupt, and to make everything worse, the President is acting like an imbecile on steroids,” Casilao said.

The new alert level system also drew criticism from the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), which said it did not offer anything new, and would be as ineffectual in containing the pandemic as other community quarantines.

“The government is still refusing to spend on the most urgent health measures of widespread free mass testing, diligent contact-tracing, and making selective quarantines more convenient for at-risk people,” the group said.

It said COVID-19 cases will continue to soar if all the government can do is rename its lockdown measures.

Topics: COVID-19 , Pandemic , Lockdown , World Health Organization , Eduardo Año
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