Puerto Princesa City is on the verge of yet another COVID-19 surge, its third since the pandemic, prompting the city government to reimpose stricter public health protocols starting Monday.

The city Incident Management Team said the number of cases dramatically increased during the last seven days, from 22 to 293 today (Monday). IMT commander Dr. Dean Palanca said most of the cases were returning residents.

The city government said it is seeking approval from the regional Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to re-impose a travel ban on domestic tourists and returning residents.

New curfew hours will also be imposed– from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. — starting January 13 to January 31, and entertainment establishments will be ordered closed in line with a reimposed liquor ban policy.

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“Masasabi natin na nasa initial surge pa lang tayo, so hindi na tayo maghihintay na mataas ang kaso, na medyo malala na, e bago pa lang tayo gagalaw at magkakaroon ng preventive measures,” he said in a live briefing on Monday.

“Napakataas ng ating mga kaso na galing sa mga umuuwi sa Puerto Princesa, nag-spend ng time at nag-stay sa kani-kanilang mga pamilya. Mayroon naging kapalit din ang ating kaunting bonding nitong patapos ng December,” he added.

Palanca added that the IMT is currently monitoring the city’s healthcare utilization rate, which he said is still relatively low compared to previous surges. He stated that most of the new COVID patients are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, and were mostly infected by members of their household.

“Mababa pa rin ang ating [hospital] occupancy rate. Actually ang 31 na admitted sa Ospital ng Palawan ay hindi lahat ay may COVID, kalahati doon ay COVID-suspect na minomonitor natin,” he said.

The travel ban on returning residents and domestic tourists will take effect once the regional IATF approves the city government’s request for concurrence. City IATF spokesperson Atty. Norman Yap stated that they will be sending their written request on Tuesday. The ban is expected to be in place starting from the approval date to January 31.

However, certain travelers will be exempted from the ban. These include healthcare workers who are part of the vaccination team, humanitarian workers, disaster relief officials from the national government, bank employees, logistics employees, and all those involved in post-Typhoon Odette repair efforts.

Also from January 13 to 31, the city government will prohibit mass gatherings, particularly in households and family gatherings. Minors 11 years old and below are also temporarily banned from entering malls or similar establishments, while those aged 12 to 18 should show their vaccination cards before entering malls. Indoor dining will also only be allowed to fully-vaccinated individuals of all ages. Contact sports, such as basketball, will also be prohibited.

When asked if Puerto Princesa will be placed under a higher alert level classification, Yap explained that it will be up to the Department of Health (DOH) and the national IATF.

“Hindi [ito] kagaya ng quarantine system, na puwedeng mag-apila o request. Dito sa Alert Level system, hintayin natin ang assessment ng DOH based sa data natin kung ie-escalate ba tayo sa Alert Level 3 by January 16. But hopefully, hindi naman sana, so we are still at Alert Level 2,” Yap said.

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is a senior reporter for Palawan News who covers politics, education, environment, tourism, and human interest stories. She loves watching Netflix, reading literary fiction, and listens to serial fiction podcasts. Her favorite color is blue.