(UPDATE) The entire country will remain under some form of COVID-19 quarantine: GCQ in Metro Manila and some urban areas and Modified GCQ in the rest of the country, President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday, signaling that restrictions will stay as authorities move to flatten curve or cap the rise in infections while waiting for a vaccine.
Ahead of the announcement, authorities said gyms and grooming services could reopen at limited capacity in GCQ and MGCQ areas starting Sept. 1. Aside from Metro Manila, Bulacan, Batangas, Bacolod and Tacloban will be under GCQ. The rest of the country will be under MGCQ. Iligan City is under Modified ECQ, the second highest quarantine.
"Ang susi talaga sa paglaban sa COVID ay ingat ingat ingat, maskara, hugas, distancing (The key, reall, to fighting COVID is caution, masks, handwashing, distancing)," Duterte said.
The Philippines on Monday confirmed 3,446 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total 220,819, of which 59,699 are active. The death toll stood at 3,558. Cases are still "high," said Health Sec. Francisco Duque, adding more needs to be done to prevent the disease from spreading.
By the end of September, the Philippines would have been under some form of COVID-19 restrictions for six and a half months -- during which people were told to stay at home, wear face masks and keep at least one meter apart when outside the house.
Physical distancing is the norm as the country observes the longest Christmas festivities in the world, which starts on Sept. 1 and ends in early January.
The infection curve could flatten by September, according to a think tank that advises the government's pandemic response task force. There are at least two indicators, according to Guido David, a fellow of UP-Octa : The 2,378 cases reported on Aug. 23 was the lowest in a single day for the the month.
The reproduction rate of the virus is also down to 1.1 from 1.5, David said. Experts see 1 as the threshold for this indicator, scores below it mean infections are petering out, scores above it indicate an expansion. During the Strict GCQ period, the daily confirmed cases topped 5,000 only once, on Aug. 26.
Fresh funding is being allocated to fight COVID-19. Bayanihan to Recover as One, which earmarks P140 billion and a standby fund of P25 billion to respond to the pandemic is awaiting the President's signature. Duterte also pitched next year's P4.5-trillion budget to Congress as a chance to bring the economy "back on the road."
More needs to be done, according to the opposition. The government must lay out a comprehensive, quick and clear plan to beat the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the only way to revive businesses, Vice President Leni Robredo said. It's not a choice between health and the economy, she said.