Cinemas have begun to reopen, the space between commuters is shrinking and EDSA is once again choked in traffic during rush hour. The economy is slowly reopening yet the entire country remains under quarantine for seven months and counting. What does this say about the Philippines' fight against COVID-19?
New infections are going down, including the epicenter of the outbreak -- Metro Manila. Filipinos have also taken to the habit of wearing face masks and face shields when out in public, a combination that provides near 100% protection. It is this context that allows authorities to carefully restart business.
The second lowest quarantine or GCQ in Metro Manila, and the lowest quarantine or MGCQ for most of the country is in force until Oct. 31. Less than halfway into the month, however, there has been a calibrated loosening of restrictions -- restaurants can operate for 24 hours, hotels can offer staycation packages, and commuters can be spaced one seat apart in public transport instead of one meter.
Later Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte will again address the nation on the status of the country's fight against COVID-19. He had earlier assured Filipinos that a vaccine would be procured soonest. A Pulse Survey showed that nine in 10 approve of his handling of the pandemic.
"Tuloy-tuloy naman ang ating pag-open ng mga sektor (The opening up of sectors is continuing)," Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez told TeleRadyo "Officially approved in principle yung pag-reopen natin ng economy, patuloy ang pag-manage ng risk (Officially, the plan to reopen the economy is officially approved, we will continue to manage the risks)."
Select businesses can reopen up to 100% capacity, with a caveat: a strict enforcement of minimum health requirements, that's face masks, face shields, physical distancing and hand-washing. "Hindi nagsasabi na luluwag tayo sa implementasyon (This doesn't mean that we are relaxing the implementation)."
New cases are going down and only localized lockdowns could be necessary said Guido David, a fellow at UP OCTA Research that advises the country's pandemic response task force.
Metro Manila is "on the way to recovery," David told TeleRadyo. Authorities however should monitor spikes in surrouding Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal Quezon), he said.
Metro Manila mayors recently proposed expanding the age bracket of those allowed to leave their homes to 18 to 65 years old from 21 to 60. David said the fatality rate was higher among seniors, at 7% for those aged 55 to 65 and 15% for those 65 years old and up. For those aged 54 and lower, the fatality rate is at 1% to 1.5%.
The one-seat apart rule was approved since studies have shown that as long as commuters wear face masks and face shields and avoid talking or eating, the chances of infection are slim, Lopez said.
Commuters will be allowed to be seated together as long as there is a plastic barrier between them, Transportation Asec. Goddes Hope Libiran told TeleRadyo. Of course, they should also wear face masks and face shields.
"Effective immediately po ito... para po maitaas 'yung kasalukuyang kapasidad ng PUVs natin (This is effective immediately, to increase the capacity of our PUVs)," she said.
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Labor Sec. Silvestre Bello had said a further easing of transport restrictions would encourage more people to go back to work. This week, authorities approved the resumption of more jeepney routes.
On Thursday, SM City Taytay, located in a Metro Manila suburb, will reopen its cinema under strict physical distancing rules, in a blueprint for the reopening of movie theaters elsewehere. Rizal province, which includes Taytay, is under MGCQ, the lowest quarantine.
The lockdown that staretd in March, among the longest in the world has wrought unprecedented damage to the economy, which sank into a recession for the first time sicne the 1980s.