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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - The Philippines on Monday imposed stricter quarantine measures in the country’s capital region of Metro Manila and adjacent provinces as part of efforts to reduce a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases by at least 25 percent in two weeks.
“Additional restriction measures to address the rise in COVID-19 infections aim to reduce the number of new cases reported daily by as much as 25 percent after the two-week implementation period,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told reporters on Monday.
Citing data from the Department of Health (DoH), Roque said that the Philippines had surpassed the peak of infections recorded in August 2020, with most cases traced to Metro Manila and Region 4A.
The latest measures follow an alarming uptick in infections across the country, with the National Capital Region (NCR) identified as the epicenter.
On Monday, the DoH reported a new record high of 8,019 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 671,792 across the country.
The number of active cases is 80,970, but most are mild and asymptomatic.
This month, the Philippines recorded 5,646 new cases on average each day, 3.5 times higher than January, Roque said, adding that the NCR had set a new peak in terms of weekly cases by date of onset of illness.
Earlier on Sunday, he said that President Rodrigo Duterte had approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to place the NCR and its four adjacent provinces “in a general community quarantine bubble.”
Roque said, however, that there would be no lockdown and that the economy would remain open, despite a ban on travel and mass gatherings in the capital and its neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal from Monday until April 4.
“Instead, additional measures will be put in place to address the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the NCR and its neighboring provinces,” Roque said.
To facilitate the process, the Philippine National Police has set up 20 control points in areas covered by the latest travel restrictions.
Under the IATF Resolution No. 104, only essential travel in and out of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal will be allowed.
“Going in and out of Metro Manila and the said provinces will be limited to essential travel. We will have a sort of bubble in NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, at Rizal,” Roque said.
Under the latest restrictions, only authorized persons outside of their residences requiring essential travel will enter and exit the quarantined area.
These include health and emergency personnel, government officials, duly authorized humanitarian assistance actors, persons traveling for medical and humanitarian reasons, persons going to the airport for authorized travel abroad, those crossing zones for work or business, those returning home and returning overseas Filipino workers.
The presidential spokesman said that public transportation would remain operational before reminding the public to strictly observe the government’s “seven commandments,” including wearing face masks, no talking or eating on board, proper ventilation and frequent disinfection, no symptomatic passengers and observing physical distancing.
Mass gatherings, including religious events, are prohibited. However, weddings, baptisms, and funeral services can be limited to 10 persons.
Despite the additional measures, Roque underscored that the current operational capacities of essential and non-essential services and industries should be maintained, subject to their adherence to safety protocols and minimum public health standards.
“Face-to-face meetings are highly discouraged. Group meals in workplaces are also not allowed,” he said. On the other hand, work from home is highly encouraged, as are virtual meetings and conferences.
When it comes to dining, the presidential spokesman said that eating at restaurants, cafes and other similar establishments would be limited to delivery or take-out.
However, outdoor dining is allowed, provided that additional engineering and administrative controls are in place, such as appropriate seating arrangements limited to two persons per table.
Also, the venue capacity for outdoor dine-in restaurants and cafes, as well as personal care services, has been reduced to a maximum of 50 percent.
Roque said that there would be a “common curfew” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. as an additional measure. Workers, cargo vehicles, and public transportation, however, would be exempted from the move.
Meanwhile, any person below 18 and above 65 years of age, pregnant women and those with immunodeficiencies, comorbidities or other health risks are required to remain at their residences at all times, except for essential goods and services or work purposes in their respective industries and offices.
Experts believe that the measures are aimed at decreasing the mobility of people to reduce the infection rate.
“Aside from increased mobility due to a more open economy, the presence of new variants in the country could also have had an impact in the current increase in cases,” Dr. Edsel Salvana, infectious disease specialist and director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of the Philippines in Manila, said during the Malacanang press briefing.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Jr. agreed, adding that lockdowns were continuously being implemented in local government units in the NCR, a measure that the areas’ mayors felt was “more effective.”
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