Some 23 million people in Metro Manila and its suburbs will know as early as Monday whether or not President Rodrigo Duterte will retain or ease the MECQ or strict quarantine, a decision that will determine how much the economy in recession can restart starting Aug. 19.
The 75-year-old leader said last week he was caught in a dilemma, whether or not to enforce strick lockdowns, likening it to being "between the devil and the deep blue sea." The head of the National Task Force on the Pandemic, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, said on Aug. 10 that the capital was "ready" to ease restrictions by a notch to GCQ. However, record numbers of infections were recorded in the succeeding days.
Over the weekend, Duterte kept most of the country under the two lowest forms of restrictions until Aug. 31: GCQ or General Community Quarantine will be in force in Nueva Ecija, Batangas, Quezon province, Iloilo City, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City Talisay City, and the municipalities of Minglanilla and Consolacion. The rest of the country will be under the lowest classification, Modified General Community Quarantine.
Presidential Spokesperon Harry Roque said on Saturday that the Inter-Agency Task Force submitted to the President its recommendation on the MECQ in Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan, which will end on Aug. 18.
The MECQ was reimposed to give frontliners a break, cap the rise in infections and reboot the government's COVID-19 strategy. Here's what we know about the 15-day strict quarantine and what's likely to happen next:
Will the MECQ be extended?
It's "possible but highly unlikely," Roque told Malacanang reporters on Aug. 11. The NCR is "ready" to return to GCQ, said Lorenzana on Aug. 10. The President had told the nation of his dilemma and the fact that there are not enough funds for fresh cash transfers or social amelioration. Duterte could address the nation as early as Monday, or two days before the MECQ ends at midnight on Aug. 18.
What changed in the COVID-19 strategy during the MECQ?
Among new measures, the Philippines will increase traced contacts of COVID-19 patients to around 37, shift to the more conclusive RT-PCR tests instead of rapid tests, increase the hospital bed allocation for COVID-19 patients , build more isolation facilities, and commence human trials on the Japanese-made anti-flu drug, Avigan. A command center for Metro Manila hospitals was also opened.
What will change when the GCQ is reimposed?
Public transportation is allowed in GCQ, including trains, buses, taxis, jeeps and ride-share cars. Leisure shops are allowed to open in shopping malls and restaurants can accept dine-in customers. However, this is still subject to change depending on the President's announcement.
Before the end of July, the trade department said the following businesses can restart at 30 percent capacity in GCQ areas: gyms, fitness centers, internet shops, tutorial and review centers, and grooming services.
In MGCQ areas, the following can resume, also at 30 percent capacity: tattoo and body piercing, live events, entertainment industries, libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers, tourist destinations, and schools for language, driving, dance, acting and voice.
What can we expect moving forward?
Lockdowns or ECQ in the street or barangay levels to contain localized outbreaks, said Roque and Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire in separate instances.
"Walang katapusan ang ECQ dahil ang ECQ natin ngayon, localized or granular... Ang diperensiya lalo natin hihigpitan, ngayon ang hinahanbol natin mga clusters ng sakit (There is no end to the ECQ because our ECQs now are localized or granular. The difference, we will tighten it, especially now that we are running after clusters of the disease)," he said.