MANILA, Philippines (Corrected 6:39 p.m.) — Government will roll out new COVID-19 restrictions in Metro Manila and four provinces in Calabarzon and in Central Luzon for two weeks which include a ban on non-essential travel and mass gatherings, as the country struggles to contain a new surge in infections.
President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a resolution by the coronavirus task force on the curbs, which will be in effect on Monday, March 22 until April 4.
The move reverts Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal to General Community Quarantine status, and includes them in a "Subject Area" that also includes Metro Maila in a bid to prevent cases spreading to neighboring provinces.
Only essential travel into and out of the Subject Area will be allowed.
In a briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said only the following are allowed outside of their homes:
- Essential workers, who will need to show their work ID
- Health and emergency frontline services personnel
- Government officials and government frontline personnel
- Duly-authorized humanitarian assistance actors
- Persons traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons
- Persons going to the airport for travel abroad
- Anyone crossing zones for work or business and going back home
- Returning overseas Filipinos and OFWs
Public transportation will continue to operate but at capacities set by the transportation department. The Palace also sought to encourage Filipinos to walk or bike.
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Mass gatherings, including religious services will once again be disallowed, while in-person meetings are highly discouraged. Weddings, baptisms and funeral services will be allowed but capped at 10 people.
Earlier Sunday, the dioceses of Cubao and Novaliches announced that in-premises Masses are suspended. The halt comes as Holy Week, an important religious commemoration for Catholics, approaches.
The new curbs include the suspendsion of the operation of driving schools, cinemas, cultural centers and a limit on social events by the tourism department.
Work goes on, but no aid for affected
The Palace said the new curbs do not constitute a lockdown, and instead puts the Metro Manila and the four provinces within a bubble.
Roque said work will continue, although there will be caps on how many people are allowed to work on site. The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, however, urged the private sector to roll out alternative work arrangements for its employees.
The administration said it will not be providing financial assistance to workers who may be affected by the new measures.
"Hindi po natin sinara ang ekonomiya," Roque said. "So tuloy-tuloy po ang pagta-trabaho."
(We are not closing down the economy, so work will go on)
Food establishments will continue to operate but will be limited to deliveries, take-out and outdoor dining will be allowed. A maximum of two people will be allowed to share a table.
The Subject Area will also have a unified curfew of from 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. , a measure rolled out earlier this week across Metro Manila.
Workers, cargo vehicles and mass transportation will not be restricted by the curfews.
The task force also discouraged people from visiting people outside their immediate families, and "strongly advised" the wearing of face masks at home.
But while the interior department and local governments were tasked to ensure that isolation protocols are followed, it is not clear whether COVID-19 testing efforts will be increased within the Subject Area.
The call for increased testing has been constant since last year.
"I hope we are doing massive testing, contact tracing and isolation especially in areas that are on surgical lockdown," Vice President Leni Robredo said on Sunday. "Hindi na puwede 'yung 30,000 to 40,000 tests per day because that was our target when our cases were still down."
Local governments have been directed to implement the following "surge responses":
- Actively find cases in barangays with highest cases with CODE (Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic) Team visits
- Increase facility-based quarantine and isolation as well as better referral of patients to treatment and monitoring facilities.
Government also ordered hospitals to increase the bed capacity for COVID-19 patients to 50% of beds for public hospitals and 30% of beds for private institutions.
(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article included Bulacan in the Calabarzon region. This has been corrected to reflect that Bulacan is in Central Luzon)
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