By Rose de la Cruz | Published: October 15, 2020
Metro Manila mayors are now looking at easing the age restrictions of people allowed to leave their homes, opening more jeepney routes and reducing the physical distancing in public utility vehicles from 1 meter to 1 seat apart while maintaining safety protocols of wearing face masks and shields, banning the use of phones inside public transport and physical distancing.
All these measures are designed to gradually reopen the economy and allow more people to work, according to MM Council (MMC) head Edwin Olivarez, who is the mayor of Paranaque City.
These recommendations were aired amidst the recommendation of the UP Octa Research Group’s recommendation to place parts of Bauan in Batangas, Calbayog in Western Samar and General Trias in Cavite under strict quarantine classification, which piqued Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who urged the group to make its recommendations directly to the IATF (inter agency task force on managing infectious diseases) instead of the media.
Roque said while he appreciates the efforts of Octa in religiously monitoring COVID-19 cases, he belittled the group as having only two epidemiologists as against the IATF’s pool of epidemiologists, who make the recommendations to the Cabinet and to the President.
While he appreciates their help in monitoring the COVID-19 cases in the country, Roque said the group does not have the same number of experts working with the task force leading the pandemic response.
The MMC said local chief executives are looking at lowering the age of younger residents allowed to go out from 21 to 18 and the senior citizens’ age from 60 to 65 years, so that they can return to their usual productive lives. MMC is composed of all Metro Manila mayors who meet regularly to discuss changes in quarantine rules.
The local executives agree that curfew be maintained from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which had been in effect since the lockdown in March but that those working beyond curfew hours like call center workers are exempted from the rule.
Localized exemptions to the curfew like food delivery is being allowed 24 hours daily in the city of Manila.
MMC is also asking the Department of Transport (DOTr) and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to increase the capacity of public transportation as more Filipinos are expected to leave their homes. Buses, trains, and jeepneys are operating at a limited capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The DOTr and the LTFRB should open more public utility vehicles because we need to help the economy and more people should be allowed to leave their homes,” he said.
Bloomberg reported today that economic managers have been pushing to further reopen public transport to ferry more people to work to help stimulate the economy, which Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno said may shrink by up to 9 percent this year. The nation is also considering shorter curfew hours to allow more work shifts, Roque said.
The movement restrictions are being eased even as the Philippines (landing the 18th top slot worldwide in COVID-19 cases) remains to have the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, reporting some 3,500 cases on Monday – the highest since mid-September.
The President met, for the first time in seven months, his full Cabinet last Oct. 12 to discuss the further opening of the economy.
The President approved NEDA’s recommendations to increase the operational capacity of public transportation, allow more businesses to reopen or increase their operational capacity, and allow more age groups to step out of their homes.
The Cabinet approved physical distancing in PUVs at ‘one seat apart’ instead of 1 meter to eventually lead to sit together with plastic barrier or use of UV light; expand the train capacity to 50 percent; expand provincial buses, motorcycle taxi, shuttles and transport network vehicle services (TNVS) and accelerate use of service contracting of buses and jeeps.
For businesses, the new rules are: shorten curfew hours and allow more work shifts so that more workers and buyers contribute to the economy; gradual expansion of business operation capacity from 75 to 100 percent and more age groups can go out (from the current restriction of 21 to 60 to 15 and 65).
The Cabinet decided that elevating quarantine classifications for an entire region would only be used as a “last resort.” Instead, provincial or city governments must immediately and strictly enforce localized lockdowns in areas where there are spikes in infections.
Metro Manila which has been under general community quarantine since June 1, may stay in this classification unless a big drop in new cases is noted. As of Oct. 13, total registered cases for Metro Manila reached 176,000 with 156,000 recoveries and 3,048 deaths. CALABARZON had 55,954 cases with 41,403 recoveries and 602 deaths.
Malacanang said it would constantly monitor hospital capacity to make sure the use of critical care facilities does not reach 70 percent.
Earlier, Finance Secretary asked that MM and CALABARZON which account for 60 percent of GNP should be downgraded in quarantine protocols because of the devastating blow on the economy by the pandemic.