ENVIRONMENT Secretary Roy Cimatu announced early Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, the downgrade of Cebu City’s quarantine status to modified general community quarantine starting on Sept. 1, despite fears that further easing of restrictions on public movement would re-escalate the city’s Covid-19 cases.
Cebu City saw a spike in the cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 when its enhanced community quarantine status (ECQ) was downgraded to general community quarantine (GCQ) from June 1 to 15, forcing the National Government to step in with Cimatu appointed as overseer for Cebu City’s Covid-19 response.
In the evening of Aug. 31, President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of the new quarantine classifications, including Cebu City’s modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) status, was announced.
Cebu City, the first local government unit to be reverted to tighter quarantine rules on June 15, is placed under the more relaxed MGCQ following the decrease in coronavirus infections.
Other areas that were under GCQ in the last two weeks that also shifted to MGCQ are Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, Minglanilla and Consolacion towns in Cebu, Iloilo City, Cavite, Rizal, Quezon and Nueva Ecija.
Duterte also approved the recommendation to revert Iligan City in Northern Mindanao to modified enhanced community quarantine.
The National Capital Region and the provinces of Batangas and Bulacan will remain under GCQ. Tacloban City in Leyte and Bacolod City in Negros Occidental, both of which saw a spike in new coronavirus infections in the past week, will go back to GCQ.
The rest of the country will be under MGCQ from Sept. 1 to 30.
Cebu City Covid-19 cases
On June 30, the Department of Health (DOH) 7 reported a total of 5,494 confirmed Covid-19 infections with 2,723 recoveries and 169 deaths in Cebu City. The number of active cases at the time was 2,602.
Two months later, on Aug. 30, the DOH 7 reported 622 active Covid-19 cases in Cebu City, after registering a total of 8,343 recoveries. The city had 9,614 total confirmed Covid-19 cases with 649 total deaths.
Cimatu announced Cebu City’s shift to MGCQ from Sept. 1 to 30 ahead of the President’s announcement of his approval of the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the integrated body of government agencies that leads the country’s response to Covid-19.
Cimatu, a retired general, congratulated Cebu City residents for the quarantine downgrade during an online press conference on Aug. 31. He will be moving on to Bacolod and Iloilo as these two cities in Western Visayas are seeing an increase in Covid-19 cases.
“I’m here to congratulate the Cebuanos; we did it. We did it because our number of active cases has gone down because we have more recoveries and it’s the indication of the seriousness of the leadership here and also the Department of Health and other agencies,” he said.
He further said: “We will replicate what we have done in Cebu. Gamitin natin na model ang Cebu City (We will use Cebu City as a model).”
In Cebu City, authorities implemented “granular lockdowns,” or placed a section of a barangay or street on lockdown if a resident tested positive for Covid-19. This practice is seen as less restrictive as it does not limit the movement of residents in other areas that have no active Covid-19 cases.
First time on MGCQ status
In nearly six months of being placed on community quarantine, Cebu City had never been placed on MGCQ status.
Cebu City was first placed by Labella on GCQ from March 16 to April 14, but the mayor changed the status to ECQ on March 28 after the city saw a jump in Covid-19 cases. The ECQ status, which was supposed to end on April 28, was extended to May 15 in an announcement made by Labella last April 22.
Two days later, on April 24, the National Government said the local chief executives can no longer impose quarantine measures. This role was given to the IATF.
Then, IATF extended Cebu City’s ECQ status from May 16 to May 31. From June 1 to June 15, Cebu City was placed on GCQ after the IATF approved Labella’s appeal not to place the city under modified ECQ (MECQ)—the original decision of the IATF for that period. The ECQ status was reimposed again in Cebu City from June 16 to June 30, and it was extended until July 15.
Cebu City shifted to MECQ from July 16 to July 31, then to GCQ from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31.
MGCQ “refers to the transition phase between GCQ and the New Normal, when the following temporary measures are relaxed and become less necessary: limiting movement and transportation, the regulation of operating industries, and the presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols,” according to the July 16, 2020 amended IATF omnibus guidelines.
Opening tourist spots
Labella is planning to open some tourist destinations in an MGCQ Cebu City, and this includes a flower farm in the mountain barangay of Sirao, where several vendors said in a television news report that they want the tourist spot to reopen so they can earn a living.
The mayor had said he would still limit public movement by requiring residents to carry their QR-coded quarantine passes under an MGCQ setup.
Minimum public health standards such as wearing masks and observing physical distance must be complied with at all times in areas under GCQ and MGCQ.
Public movement in GCQ and MGCQ settings is limited to getting essential goods and services, and work in the offices or industries permitted to operate.
Movement for leisure is prohibited under the GCQ guidelines.
In areas under GCQ and MGCQ, persons below 21 and those who are 60 and above, those with immunodeficiency, comorbidities or other health risks and pregnant women must stay home at all times unless they have to buy essential goods and services, or are allowed to work in permitted businesses.
The IATF said activities and movements allowed for the same age group under other sections of its guidelines shall continue to be permitted under MGCQ.
Public transport is allowed in both GCQ and modified GCQ settings provided that the physical distancing is observed inside permitted public utility vehicles.
Several businesses have been operating since Aug. 1.
Cebu business leaders said the public should not be complacent during a pandemic, whatever the Cebu City’s quarantine status is.
Felix Taguiam, president of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “As what we all know, Cebu has been improving so much and it has been seeing the flattening of the curve. Whether it be MGCQ or ECQ, we should not let up and learn from our hard experience of being placed under enhanced community quarantine.”
Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Steven Yu said with the MGCQ, there should also be an improvement in public transportation for workers to be able to freely go to their offices.
Police Regional Office 7 Director Albert Ignatius Ferro, in a separate and early interview on Aug. 31, said he would respect if the government decided to downgrade Cebu City’s quarantine status to MGCQ.
But he stood pat on his stand that Cebu City’s GCQ status should be extended despite the drop in new Covid-19 cases in the city.
Ferro’s stance stems from his concern about a quarantine security vacuum that will be created by the transfer of the augmentation forces to the cities of Iloilo and Bacolod to help enforce public health measures to contain the rise in number of Covid-19 cases there.
Community quarantine violations are expected to rise if there are fewer police officers on the streets, and Covid-19 cases could increase if public movement is not restricted, according to Ferro.
Ferro wants the GCQ status to be extended for a week or until the arrival of 250 new police officers to assist the local police in enforcing quarantine measures.
The police official already met with Labella and IATF Deputy Implementer for the Visayas for Covid Response Melquiades Feliciano; he discussed his position with the officials. (JJL, JOB, AYB / KAL, MVI of SunStar Philippines)