President Rodrigo Duterte has eased the quarantine restrictions in Palawan and other “moderate to low risk areas” of COVID-19 infection, from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to a “General Community Quarantine” or GCQ status.

Announcing the pivotal COVID-19 policy guidelines described by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque dubbed as the “new normal” policy, the palace enumerated the regions and provinces which were qualified under “low and moderate” risk for the deadly infection.

“IATF recommended the modified community quarantine per region, province, or area subject to general guidelines and further review and considerations,” he said.

The enhanced ECQ status will be extended until May 15 in the National Capital Region (NCR), Benguet, Pangasinan, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Quezon, Oriental Mindoro, Occ Mindoro, Albay, Catanduanes, Antique, Iloilo, Cebu, Cebu City, Davao Del Norte, and Davao City.

Areas under GCQ considered under ‘moderate risk’ are Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Davao Del Sur, Davao Oriental, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao Del Sur,

Areas under GCQ considered under “low risk” of COVID-19 are Apayao, Mt Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, Ilocos Sur, Batanes, Quirino, Aurora, Palawan, Romblon, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon, Masbate, Guimaras, Bohol, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Northern Samar, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga Del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Camiguin, Davao Occ, Saranggani, Agusan Del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao Del Norte, Surigao Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte, Basilan, and Sulu.

All low and moderate risk regions, provinces, or areas will be placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) starting May 1, 2020, provided that implementing guidelines would be observed, subject to further consideration.

Inter-municipal travel still on hold

Reacting to the palace announcement, Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez said in a radio interview that the island province will follow suit on the relaxation of the GCQ.

However, he said the inter-municipal travel ban would have to be “carefully studied”, pointing out implications of the provision under “reduced capacity”.

“If you ask me, kausapin muna sila [transport groups] bago i-lift ang inter-municipal travel. Payagan ang bus mag-travel, pero papayag ba ang pasahero na dodoblehin ang pamasahe? Kasi halimbawa, ‘yong van P500 ang pamasahe papuntang Brooke’s [Point] sa 10 tao, madodoble ‘yon,” he said.

Alvarez also said that relief aid for the vulnerable sector, and those who were not part of the qualified working sectors, would continue.

“Marami tayong pera. Bibili tayo ng bigas at goods para sa vulnerable sector. Tuloy pa din ‘yong community kitchen. Hindi naman lahat puwede na mag-trabaho kaya tuloy pa din ang tulong,” Alvarez added.

He added that a more robust medical response would be enforced as the island province gradually reboots the working force.

“Papa-igtingin pa natin ‘yong sa medical; bibili tayo ng ventilators, gamot, at pagtayo ng quarantine facilities para ‘yong may sakit, ubo o TB halimbawa, ihiwalay na sila agad para hindi na makahawa,” he added.

Back to Work

Roque announced that the inter agency task force has recommended a partial and gradual opening of other sectors and industries in provinces under GCQ to “restart the economy”.

“All other provinces not mentioned will be under ‘general community quarantine,’ where they must observe the new normal. For areas under general community quarantine, pwedeng magtrabaho ang mga manggagawa mula piling sektor,” he said.

Workers and sectors in category I, II and III may continue to work or operate in phases including 100% opening for industries in agriculture, fishery, forestry, food manufacturing, raw material and food retail, supermarket, restaurant for take-out or delivery only, healthcare, logistics, telecommunications, water, energy, internet, and media.

* 50-100% opening in other manufacturing such as e-commerce, electronics, and exports.

* 50% onsite work and 50% work from home for financial services, BPO, other non-leisure wholesale and retail trade, other non-leisure services.

Restricted Movement

Roque also said that the general public under GCQ may be allowed to go out with restricted movement.
“Ang mga bata at may edad 60 pataas ay mananatili sa bahay. Papayagan ang mga mall na magbukas, ang public transport pwede at reduced capacity,” he said.

The general population may go out of their homes only for purposes of accessing basic necessities. However, those with ages below 21 years old and those 60 years old and above as well as those with ages ranging from 21 years old but below 60 years old but who reside with co-morbidities or other risk factors shall stay home.

Non-leisure stores in malls and shopping centers may partially open with strict observance of physical distancing and wearing face masks.

Roque pointed out that other activities may start operations by September provided that the low number of confirmed active COVID-19 continue to dwindle by May.

“Consider in GCQ areas under moderate-low risk late opening in September (except for online learning) leisure, amusement, gaming, and fitness, tourism, all gatherings including religious and others,” he said.

Back to School

The higher education institutions may continue classes to finish the academic year and issue credentials to students in accordance with guidelines as may be issued by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

However, for elementary and secondary educational institutions, the IATF recommended late school opening by September.

Public Transport

Public transportation may operate at a reduced capacity in accordance with guidelines as may be issued by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

However, Roque pointed out that curfew may still be imposed by the local government units at night for non-workers.

“Papayagan din ang public transport to operate at reduced capacity at ang LGU to impose curfew at night doon sa mga hindi manggagawa,” he added.

Airports and seaports may operate only to ensure the unhampered movement of goods.

Priority and essential construction projects were also resumed in accordance with guidelines that may be issued by the DPWH.

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.