Metro Manila mayors are considering extending the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in the National Capital Region until the end of the year to keep COVID-19 infections in check.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) general manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr. made this announcement during a virtual press conference Monday.
Metro Manila is currently under GCQ until Oct. 31 amid the coronavirus disease pandemic.
Pending the approval of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the mayors agreed on three measures, Garcia said.
• To shorten the curfew hours to midnight to 4 a.m except in Navotas City, where curfew hours will remain from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m;
• To allow persons aged 18 to 65 years old to go outside their residences in Metro Manila; and
• To increase the capacity of churches to 30 percent.
He said the 17 mayors of Metro Manila presented and unanimously recommended the new policies during a meeting of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) with MMDA officials and members of the IATF.
“These three major recommendations are dependent on the approval of the IATF,” Garcia said.
The MMC, composed of local executives of 16 cities and the municipality of Pateros, is the governing board and the policy-making body of the MMDA.
Garcia said shorter curfew hours would allow workers to travel at ease and that malls and other commercial establishments that provide essential goods and services should also extend their operating hours to complement the staggered shifts.
He said Navotas was not included in the adjusted curfew hours because the city is more of a residential area.
"The configuration of Navotas is different. There are few commercial businesses, and most of the establishments are industrial (in nature). What we want to avoid are the bystanders and other non-essential activities," Garcia said.
He added that based on the agreement, residents aged 18 to 65 years old would now be considered authorized persons outside residence (APOR) under the GCQ.
Garcia said the age adjustment aimed to help boost the economy as more businesses open.
“As the number of COVID-19 cases go down, we open the businesses gradually,” he said.
The MMDA, however, appealed to the public to avoid leisure travel and follow health and safety protocols against COVID-19.
The MMDA and the mayors also discouraged people from holding Christmas parties this holiday season.
Meanwhile, more routes for traditional public utility jeepneys will be opened in the coming days amid the increasing demand for public transportation in Metro Manila based on the suggestions of the Metro Manila mayors in another meeting with Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board Chairman Martin Delgra.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also encouraged employers and business owners to adopt a more flexible work schedules for their employees to manage physical distancing and mobility of people on the road.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez urged companies to enforce staggered shifts for workers, to spread the number of people commuting to work over the course of a day.
“We would like to see some workers going to work at 7 a.m., others may come at 8 or 9 a.m .and so on. How to the implement this, we leave to the discretion of companies,” he said Monday.
The DTI is poised to issue a memorandum order today (Tuesday) so companies can respond and make the necessary adjustments as soon as possible.
Lopez said about 95 percent of the sectors allowed to operate under a modified GCQ are already open.
“More sectors will be opened up as we reach December. Those not operating yet will be given the green light while businesses partly operating maybe allowed to operate at full capacity,” he said.
Lopez noted that the government does not expect many people flocking to work even as quarantine levels are further eased due to the work-from-home arrangements many companies have adopted to cope with the crisis.
Also on Monday, the Joint Task Force Covid Shield ordered all police commanders to coordinate with their respective local government units (LGUs) regarding travel protocols as the country gradually reopens the economy.
In a press statement, task force commander Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said that while the IATF has eased movement restrictions, the lifting of travel protocols is still subject to reasonable regulations of the LGUs, especially if there are existing local quarantine rules.
He said a number of local chief executives are asking the national government to give them enough time to make their own adjustments to ensure that their constituents are ready to comply with health and safety measures despite the easing of quarantine restrictions.
In a statement, the League of Provinces of the Philippines headed by Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco emphasized the need to implement local quarantine rules to protect their respective constituents from potential COVID-19 carriers that would enter their areas.
In related developments:
• The government has allowed train lines in Metro Manila to increase their capacity to 30 percent from the current 13 to 18 percent to enable them to transport more passengers amid the pandemic. The director for operations at the MRT-3, Michael Capati, said each train can now carry 372 passengers, almost double the number allowed before.
• Ilocos provinces and Baguio are reopening their doors to travelers from Luzon, including GCQ areas like Metro Manila, the Department of Tourism said.
• The Bureau of Immigration said it will allow the departure of Filipinos with non-essential travel starting Oct. 21, following the resolution of the IATF to implement eased departure restrictions for Filipino citizens. Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said that initially, only foreign nationals, overseas Filipino workers, permanent visa holders, students enrolled abroad, participants accepted in exchange visitor programs, as well as those who had essential travel, were allowed to depart. The new ruling, however, expands this to include non-essential travel, he said.
• The Department of Foreign Affairs said Laos and Afghanistan have lifted inbound restrictions on Filipino travelers subject to flight availability and medical protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DFA also said Malaysia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Tajikistan and Hong Kong, meanwhile, have imposed stricter medical protocols and visa regulations for those who are exempt from entry restrictions.
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