A resurgent coronavirus has driven daily cases to new record highs, prompting calls to restructure current restrictions. Fatigued by one year of lockdown, Twitter users tried to make sense of a proposal for either a "Hard GCQ" or "Soft MECQ".
The suggestion came from the OCTA Research Group, who said that no matter what the government calls it, quarantines need to be tightened to arrest the surge. Professor Ranjit Rye of UP Diliman, an OCTA fellow, likened it to Singapore's circuit breaker lockdown that calibrates response to the severity of the outbreak.
On Saturday morning, Twitter counted nearly, 12,000 posts for Hard GCQ and 10,000 for MECQ, all trying to make sense out of the quarantine classifications and the ongoing surge, which authorities have blamed on several factors including the emergence of virus variants and loose compliance with what should be second nature by now -- face masks, face shields, disinfection and social distancing.
Metro Manila is under GCQ until the end of March. It's the second lowest in a four-step quarantine system and has been in place since September. The highest quarantine is ECQ, followed by MECQ, GCQ and MGCQ.
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Originally, there was only ECQ and GCQ. As the pandemic raged in 2020, MECQ was established as a transition phase from ECQ to GCQ. The biggest difference between ECQ and GCQ is that the looser quarantine allows public transport, wider commerce and people can leave the house without quarantine passes.
The lowest quarantine, MGCQ, is the transition point to the new normal wherein only minimum health standards are required. Areas under MGCQ still have restrictions, especially for travel from areas under higher quarantines.
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The OCTA Research Group's proposal seeks a return to the September 2020 version of GCQ to arrest the surge. Since September 2020, the government has gradually loosened the GCQ to allow higher capacity in malls and trains.
This is where the "Hard GCQ" or "Soft MECQ" comes in. It's a stricter GCQ or a less strict MECQ. Still confused? Here's how OCTA envisions it:
- A "significant reduction" in on-site work for government and private offices, work from home is encouraged.
- Social gatherings will be discouraged.
- Activities in enclosed spaces such as indoor dining will be discouraged.
- Quarantine passes for the work force only
- Mass transit continues to help people shuttle to work.
Since the surge was detected in early March, the government has imposed the following restrictions in Metro Manila. All of which are reminiscent of the MECQ.
- Community-based instead of city or region wide lockdowns.
- A curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
- Only people aged 18 to 65 are allowed to go out of the house.
- Police checkpoints are reestablished.
- Foreigners are banned from entering until mid-April.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque said earlier this week that a rollback to MECQ was unnecessary for now, but future adjustments will depend on how well the targeted restrictions have worked.
"Everything is possible, but we have to calibrate our response depending on the data that come in with the recommendation of our technical advisory group and our epidemiologist of the IATF… If they say that we need to have a more widespread lockdown, then we will recommend to the President," he told ANC.
Before the record 7,000 cases was recorded Friday, OCTA Research said local lockdowns in at least two cities in Metro Manila and a region-wide curfew could halve the rise in COVID-19 infections by the end of March.
The Pasay and Navotas lockdowns reduced the R to 1.8 from 2, OCTA said. This indicator refers to the number of people a COVID-positive person can infect. By April the projected daily cases in Metro Manila would be down to 6,000 from 16,000.