Metro Manila and nearby provinces will once again be placed under the strictest form of lockdown starting Monday, as the country continues to see a surge in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte approved the recommendation of an inter-agency task force to place the National Capital Region (NCR) and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from March 29 (Monday) to April 4 (Sunday), presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised press briefing on Saturday.
An 11-hour curfew, between 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., will be enforced in the so-called NCR Plus areas.
Gatherings of more than ten individuals will be prohibited during the week, Mr. Roque said. Religious gatherings will also be banned, even the Catholic community observes Holy Week.
“We want to take drastic measures because there’s a drastic threat. Drastic threats warrant drastic response,” Mr. Roque said.
The Health department reported 9,595 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of active cases to 118,122 as of Saturday. The surge in COVID-19 infections is putting a strain on the healthcare system, as more hospitals announced they are no longer accepting COVID-19 patients and the utilization rate of intensive care unit (ICU) beds reached 73% in NCR.
Mr. Roque said the diminished capacity of hospitals within and outside NCR prompted the government to implement the most stringent lockdown. He also cited the increase in weekly attack rate, which already reached “more than 200%.”
“We are always data driven. Ang criteria natin for escalation is healthcare utilization rate at lumalabas po na it ay umabot po sa critical,” he said.
Mr. Roque said the one-week strict lockdown will have a “minimal” impact on the economy, as it falls during Holy Week when government and private offices as well as financial markets are closed on Maundy Thursday (April 1) and Good Friday (April 2).
The Philippine economy slumped to a record 9.5% in 2020 as it implemented one of the longest and most stringent lockdowns in the world.
Under the latest resolution adopted by the task force, workplaces and private and public establishments are mandated to retrofit their facilities to ensure adequate ventilation, Mr. Roque said.
Public and privates hospitals, healthcare services, manufacturers of medicine and medical supplies will be allowed to fully operate during the ECQ. Also allowed to operate at full capacity are agriculture and fishery sector workers, as well as delivery and courier services transporting food, medicine and other essential goods.
Malls will not be allowed to operate except for for essential stores such as supermarkets, pharmacies and hardware stores. Restaurants will be allowed to have take-out and delivery services.
Public transport would still be allowed to operate at lower capacity, subject to the guidelines to be issued by the Transportation department.
Construction projects would also be allowed to continue, subject to rules to be issued by the Public works department.
Private establishments providing essential goods and services will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, Mr. Roque said, as well as media establishments and workers accredited by the Transportation department.
Only skeleton workforce will be allowed for dental and other health clinics, banks, capital markets, telecommunications firms, manufacturers of construction materials, water and energy companies, business process outsourcing (BPO) firms, printing presses, airlines and other industries, Mr. Roque said.
Companies that are allowed to operate are required to provide shuttle services for their workers, Mr. Roque said.
The Palace official said the country’s economic planners have committed to subsidize both working and non-working individuals. Details of the government’s cash-based interventions have yet to be finalized.
Meanwhile, simultaneous vaccination of health workers, senior citizens and persons with comorbidities would now be allowed.
The decision came after several chief executives jumped the coronavirus vaccination queue.