The mayors of the 17 cities and municipality in Metro Manila have recommended retaining the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in the metropolis for the rest of the year, an official of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said on Monday.
In a virtual presser, MMDA General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia said the Metro Manila Council (MMC) – composed of Metro Manila mayors and national government officials – have agreed to a continued GCQ instead of recommending a downgrade to the less stringent modified community quarantine (MGCQ) in a meeting over the weekend.
“We’ll stick to a GCQ until December 31 for the whole NCR),” Garcia said in Filipino.
He said the recommendation, still subject to the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), was thought to be the better option as it would allow the gradual reopening of the economy.
“It’s going to be hard to move to an MGCQ then we add some restrictions. There will be resistance and it will be hard to control. Unlike a GCQ where we can gradually relax restrictions,” Garcia said in Filipino.
For areas with a high number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infections, he said local government units (LGU) will still have the authority to impose localized lockdowns.
“Authority is still given to mayors — when they see that they have increasing cases of Covid-19, they can impose a localized lockdown. That’s supported by the IATF-EID),” Garcia said in Filipino.
He said the number of active Covid-19 cases in the NCR has gone down, even though the national government has allowed the relaxation of several quarantine restrictions such as the reopening and expanded capacity of business establishments.
“Around 6,000 is what we have now for Covid-19 active cases. That’s from 20,000. Just imagine, it has gone down by more than 70 percent,” Garcia said partly in Filipino.
He noted the improvement came about as more people become more responsible, adhere to health protocols, and learn more about the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing is the numbers are going down even as we slowly reopen the economy because people are learning, our fellow Filipinos are becoming more responsible with regards to health protocols,” Garcia said in Filipino.
Año backs position
Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año agreed with the mayors’ decision, stressing that further relaxing quarantine restrictions in the metropolis may lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases.
He said the slow easing of restrictions would help revive the economy without putting public health at risk.
“If we do not keep a tight watch, there could be a spike again. As you know, the Christmas season is approaching],” Año said in a television interview in Filipino.
While mall sale events were allowed, Año clarified that Christmas parties would be prohibited to prevent further transmission of Covid-19.
Shorter curfew, higher church capacity
During the meeting, Garcia said the MMC has also agreed to recommend adjusting the curfew hours in Metro Manila from the current 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. to midnight to 4 a.m., allowing persons 18 to 65 years old to go outside of their homes.
“This 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. curfew, it was recommended by the economic team of the IATF-EID to help our economy. The curfew will soon begin at 12 a.m. to help establishments, like restaurants, have more customers,” Garcia said in Filipino.
He noted that the city of Navotas, however, will stick with its current curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
“We understand Navotas’ situation. They’re at the edge and they mostly residential. That’s why the city has a different curfew from the other 16 cities and municipality,” Garcia said in Filipino.
The new curfew hours, he said, would be effective as soon as their respective local government drafts a new ordinance, assuring that it would start within the week.
“This is not effective immediately. There are cities that will probably impose the new curfew earlier, they are still drafting their ordinance or executive order. But they assured that within the week, the new curfew will begin except in Navotas,” Garcia said in Filipino.
He said the curfew could shorten further in the future to allow Filipinos to attend “Simbang Gabi” or dawn Masses, noting that new guidelines would be released by end of November.
“There are suggestions to further shorten the curfew to 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. by December 1 to give way for night masses,” Garcia said in Filipino.
Another recommendation for approval of the IATF-EID, he said, was to increase the capacity of churches and other places of worship to 30 percent.
“The reason for this is our mayors see that their constituents are in need of moral and psychological guidance through face-to-face worship,” Garcia said in Filipino.
He noted that some churches that limited their interior capacity at 10 percent have people standing shoulder-to-shoulder outside in violation of social distancing guidelines.
“There are some churches that limited their interior capacity at 10 percent but we see people bunched together outside — they have big interior spaces so let’s instead maximize that to 30 percent,” Garcia said in Filipino.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the IATF may take up this week requests for the government to authorize shortened curfew for the conduct of “Simbang Gabi”.
“In all likelihood, the lifting or shortening of curfews will be left to the discretion of the respective LGUs, except Metro Manila where LGU officials normally act in unison,” Guevarra said in a message to reporters. (pna.gov.ph)