Metro Manila, Laguna, Cebu City to be under 'modified' enhanced community quarantine until May 31

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 12) — Metro Manila, Laguna province, and Cebu City will be placed under "modified" enhanced community quarantine from May 16 to May 31, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced Tuesday.

He explained the threat of COVID-19 is still present in these three high-risk areas, but some rules will be relaxed to slowly open up the country's economy.

Under the modified ECQ, authorities will allow the limited reopening of select manufacturing and processing plants. Because there will be work in reopened industries, there will also be "limited transportation services," Roque said without elaborating.

More businesses are expected to be allowed to resume operations when the COVID-19 task force finalizes the list, he added, saying they are business that can observe physical distancing and help boost the economy.

"Obviously pinakinggan natin ang siyensiya kaya nga po modified ECQ tayo. Naka-ECQ pa rin po tayo, bagamat bubuksan natin ang mas marami pang mga sektor ng ating ekonomiya. But we continue to be in ECQ because of the continuing threat," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We based the decision on science. It is still ECQ but we are opening more businesses to help the economy. But we remain under ECQ because the threat of COVID-19 is still present.]

Roque described the modified enhanced community quarantine as a "transition phase" to a relaxed general community quarantine, with the hope the COVID-19 risk in these areas will improve in a month so they can fully shift to a GCQ. He said the decision was based on the recommendation of the World Health Organization to gradually lift restrictions.

The public's movement for accessing essential services and work will remain limited, while face-to-face classes will still be suspended for areas under modified lockdown.

Local government officials are given the authority to place high-risk barangays with spikes of COVID-19 cases under stringent ECQ rules.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said several areas will shift from ECQ to GCQ after health officials found that it now takes them 7 to 30 days before the number of COVID-19 cases double. Areas seen as low-risk are no longer under any form of community quarantine, but minimum health standards must be observed at all times, such as physical distancing and mandatory wearing of face masks in public.

'We have to learn to live with COVID'

Metro Manila mayors welcome President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to ease the restrictions in the capital region. Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivarez, Metro Manila Council Chairperson, said it is similar to the third scenario the chief executives pitched to the inter-agency task force.

"We are solving two problems - one on the health side, and the second yung pong ating economy. Kasi kailangan na pong tumakbo 'yung ating ekonomiya kasi marami na pong nawalan ng trabaho at sasabihin natin hindi po sapat yung ayuda na binibigay ng ating gobyerno even national at local," Olivarez told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: "We are solving two problems - one on the health side, and the second, our economy. Our economy needs to reopen because many people have lost their jobs and we'll say the assistance given by the local and national government is not enough.]

Malabon Mayor Antolin Oreta said it's about time Metro Manila started transitioning to GCQ, considering that the coronavirus pandemic will not be over soon.

"Kailangan tayo bumalik, kailangan tayo maging normal kahit papaano. We have to learn to live with COVID kasi ito COVID na ito hindi mawawala ito. This will be here for a long time until we find a vaccine," Oreta said.

Coronavirus testing

As more COVID-19 cases continue to be recorded in the country, Roque said the government is continuously boosting its capability to trace contacts of patients, test suspected cases, and treat positive cases.

"Alam natin na hanggang hindi natin nalalaman kung nasaan ang kalaban — ang kalaban ay ang sakit — hindi natin mai-isolate at magagamot ang nagkakasakit," he said.

[Translation: We understand that as long as we don't know where is the enemy -- and the enemy is the disease -- we cannot isolate and treat those who get sick.]

The government admitted it was slow in scaling up COVID-19 testing efforts. Authorities continue to scramble to hit its goal of running 30,000 tests daily by the end of May.

Vince Dizon, the deputy chief implementer of the government's COVID-19 response, said as of May 8, the country can conduct up to 12,000 tests per day. Daily tests recorded by the Department of Health, however, are lower than 12,000.

So far, government data shows only 151,080 tests on 137,055 individuals have been done in the country, which has a population of around 108 million.

The country had 11,350 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday — 7,286 of which were in Metro Manila. Laguna recorded a total of 390 cases, while Cebu City had 1,484.

COVID-19 recoveries in the country have reached 2,106 while 751 died of the disease.

Duterte first placed Metro Manila under ECQ on March 15, but this was expanded effective two days later to cover all of Luzon until April 12. The Luzon-wide lockdown was further extended until April 30, and then another 15 days in Metro Manila and several 'high-risk" provinces to give the government time to increase the country's testing capacity.​​​​​​​