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PH shifts to ‘new normal’ under GCQ

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The Philippines is shifting to a "new normal" under a general community quarantine starting May 1, except Metro Manila, Bacolod City, Davao City, and 14 provinces which will remain under lockdown.

Metro Manila and other “high-risk” areas will remain under Enhanced Community Quarantine, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.

Other areas still under ECQ are Central Luzon, except Aurora; CALABARZON; Pangasinan; Benguet including Baguio City; Iloilo province; Cebu province including Cebu City; and Davao City.

“If you remember, there are provinces that are no longer under ECQ. During the first announcement, we said it was subject to verification. The provinces have now been removed,” Roque said.

At the same time, the Palace said starting May 1, religious activities and essential work gatherings will be allowed, and senior citizens who are actively working or are managing businesses will also be allowed to go out in areas under the GCQ.

Roque said these activities will be allowed “as long as strict social distancing and the mandatory wearing of face mask, face shield, or other facial protective equipment is maintained during the entirety of the event.

“Areas under GCQ may reopen non-leisure shops in malls and resume priority and essential construction projects,” Roque added.

Under the GCQ, workers may go out and work in phases. Young people, senior citizens, and high health risks should stay at home.

The industries allowed to resume full operation are agriculture, fishery, forestry, food manufacturing and its entire supply chain, food retail, health care, logistics, public utilities, telecommunications, and the media.

A 50-percent onsite work and 50-percent work-from-home scheme may also be imposed under GCQ in the following industries: financial services, BPO, non-leisure wholesale and retail trade, and other non-leisure services.

Non-leisure shops in malls in areas under GCQ may partially open. These include supermarkets, drugstores, banks, laundry service, restaurants (for take-out and delivery only), and hardwares. Employees, however, should be provided with masks and gloves.

Public transport modes would also be allowed to operate at reduced capacity and local government units would enforce curfew at night for non-workers.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said passenger buses would be allowed to operate at 50-percent capacity, but jeepneys would still be banned because it is impossible to practice social distancing in them.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the wearing of face masks outdoors, regardless of what type of community quarantine protocols are in place, will always be part of the new normal in the Philippines.

“We are going into this new normal already whatever state of quarantine your area is in. Masks will always be there. It’s part of the new normal. Masks will always be part of our protocol,” she said.

She said regular hand washing, cough etiquette, and physical distancing must also be imbibed among the public.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said people should stop shaking hands to avert the spread of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19, which has infected almost three million people and killed almost 200,000 worldwide.

While he acknowledged that handshaking is a social custom all over the world as a sign of respect and courtesy, Angara said it is important to skip such a customary greeting to prevent the further spread of the disease.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, clarified that the task force is not putting the elderly under “house arrest” as the ban was just an “overall policy” due to the vulnerability of the aged segment to the coronavirus disease.

“The operating guidelines are to be issued. Of course, the seniors who are actively working or running businesses will be allowed. We will use an ID system,” Lopez said.

Senior and other household members with quarantine passes who will seek medical checkups and other procedures will also be allowed as well as buying food and medicine and asking for government assistance, he said.

A congressman from Mindanao on Thursday said healthy senior citizens should be allowed to leave their homes even on a limited basis because “keeping them cooped up may even be more dangerous to their physical and mental health.”

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said he has been swamped by complaints from senior citizens over restrictions that keep them home.

“I can understand and even share their sentiments. Like many of us public officials who are 60-years-old and above, they are physically fit to work and move around. Some have retired from the government or the private sector, and a big number of them now run their own small businesses while some are captains of industry,” he said.

“They are asking the IATF to trust them with their own safety. They will always wash their hands, wear face masks when going out and always observe social distancing,” he added.

“They will not grow that old if they were careless with their health.”

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for his part, underscored the vital role of governors in the battle against COVID-19 as the world scrambles for a cure or a vaccine.

“What is clear to us at this point is that this will require all of our commitments for long haul solutions,” said Duque in a briefing with the League of Provinces of the Philippines.

“All of us will have to take on the role of public health leaders and managers to deliver our five-point strategy to defeat COVID-19 and a new normal for the entire Philippines,” Duque said during a virtual conference attended by 44 incumbent governors.

The DOH’s five-point strategy involves 1) Increasing resilience, 2) Stopping transmission, 3) Reducing the contact rate, 4) Shortening the duration of infectiousness, and 5) Enhancing the quality, consistency, and affordability of care provision.

Duque emphasized under this strategy, LGUs must establish the enabling policies and mechanisms to guarantee the effective implementation of the public health minimum standards at the local level.

He also challenged the LGUs to ramp up their testing capacities, isolation capacities, and management of all suspected, probable and confirmed cases.

Also on Thursday, the Agriculture department assured the consuming public of an adequate supply of fresh fish in the market as the ECQ has been extended to May 15. Updates from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources showed an 11-day surplus equivalent to 101,792 metric tons (MT) by end-June 2020 with supply reaching 934,920 MT and exceeding demand by 12.2 percent to 833,128 MT.

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