Metro Manila would remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) and 12 other areas until Aug. 15, amid the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Friday.
The government also announced that it may ease restrictions on more business establishments—although more health protocols may be imposed—in a bid to contain the rising infections in the country as well as the economic recession that has rendered at least seven million Filipinos jobless.
But Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion urged the President to extend the GCQ up to the end of the year so that businessmen could make plans that include quarantine restrictions, especially at a time when they are already preparing for higher demand during the holiday season.
“The question should not be [whether] we are retaining it every 15 days. We have to be able to retain it to the end of the year,” said Concepcion, who also heads food and beverage company RFM Corp. “That’s because August is the beginning of higher demand given the approaching Christmas season. So any ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] that happens would be disastrous for the economy.”
In a recorded television footage released on Friday morning, President Duterte announced the extension of the GCQ upon the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious
Also placed under GCQ were Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal in Luzon; Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City, Minglanilla and Consolacion towns in Cebu province for the Visayas; and Zamboanga City in Mindanao.
The President said the rest of the Philippines will be under the less restrictive modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until Aug.15.
“But always be careful. Do not mix together and observe distancing. This is the only thing I will ask of you,” he added.
“There are many infections. You keep on going out, the transmission will be endless. Anyway there’s the vaccine,” Mr. Duterte said, apparently referring to a still nonexistent vaccine that China promised to provide the Philippines once it is available.
Like other government officials, the President blamed the rise in COVID-19 cases on “hard-headed” Filipinos but made no reply to widespread criticism of the government’s delayed response to the emerging pandemic in January, exclusive testing policy, dismal contact tracing and a disastrous government program that ferried infected people to previously unaffected provinces.
When asked for comment, some business groups also welcomed the GCQ extension.
Francis Lim, president of the Management Association of the Philippines, said the country could not afford another ECQ.
“Let’s support the President’s decision by strictly observing the health protocols, lest the economy will be shut down again to the detriment of the whole country. We can ill afford another enhanced community quarantine,” he said.
John Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said the country “will have to accept more sickness while we struggle to restore business activity.”
“We do not know when the vaccine will arrive in Southeast Asia,” he said.
Nabil Francis, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said barangay-level lockdowns are a welcome development, while he emphasized the importance of mass testing and passing legislation that would pump prime the economy.
In IATF Resolution No. 60-A, the government stressed that Metro Manila and Calabarzon, as economic hubs, should meet several requirements in order to maintain their GCQ classification and their compliance may lead to the gradual relaxation of restrictions and allow more establishments to reopen.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the government was also considering to allow hotels, restaurants and other establishments under GCQ to increase their capacities and both the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department of Tourism may increase the operational capacity of the said establishments.
Concepcion, who spearheaded a private sector initiative, called Project Ark, that sourced rapid test kits on behalf of employers, also said Project Ark would be funding the pooled testing of 160,000 people in Metro Manila, or 10,000 people for every city.
“We are finalizing with the 16 [Metro Manila] mayors to implement pooled (polymerase chain reaction) testing to be funded initially by the private sector. And after that research, they will do it on their own already,” he added.