Metro Manila placed under Alert Level 4

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    BY VICTOR REYES and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR

    METRO Manila will be under Alert Level 4, the second highest alert status, from September 16 until 30, during the pilot implementation of the new community quarantine with Alert Levels System.

    Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) will recommend a nationwide implementation of the system if the experimental enforcement is successful.

    “For Metro Manila, we agreed for a single alert level and that is going to be Alert Level 4,” said Año, a key member of the IATF. “The pilot testing will run until September 30 and then we will make an assessment and recommend to the President if it’s ready for adoption nationwide.”

    Año likened Level 4 to the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in effect in the region until today.

    The IATF released on Monday night the guidelines for the new quarantine scheme, which will have a five-level alert system that will determine what would be allowed and prohibited in areas to be placed under localized curbs.

    The highest Level 5 which Año said is equivalent to the strict enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

    He said at least five local government units were qualified to be placed under Level 5 and two under Level 3 but Metro Manila mayors decided to recommend a single Alert Level 4 for the entire region to discourage residents from going to establishments, like restaurants, with lower alert levels just to gather. “That would become super spreader events in the other LGUs so it’s better to have a uniform implementation,” he said.

    Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos said Metro mayors have agreed to shorten the curfew period by two hours starting Thursday to 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. A resolution on the new curfew hours will be issued by the Metro Manila Council.

    Abalos said the vaccination coverage of the NCR was considered in finalizing the guidelines for the pilot implementation of the new scheme, noting fully-vaccinated individuals in the region are now over 60 percent.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that under Alert Level 4, some restrictions will be imposed for establishments and activities that would fall under the 3Cs – or closed spaces, crowded spaces, and activities that promote close contact – while some indoor activities will be limited only to fully vaccinated individuals.

    “Workers will return to work and employees of restaurants and food establishments in Metro Manila will resume activities on Thursday September 16. Al fresco and indoor dining are allowed for fully vaccinated workers and employees,” he said.

    Roque said establishments that provide personal care services would be allowed to resume operations, but these will be limited to fully-vaccinated employees and customers.

    Under the Omnibus Guidelines issued by the IATF, the Department of Health shall identify every week which areas will be placed under the different alert levels.

    Alert Level 1 will be imposed in areas where COVID-19 transmission is low and decreasing, and the total bed utilization and intensive care unit utilization rates are low and Level 2 in places where COVID transmission is low and decreasing, healthcare utilization is low, case counts are low but increasing, or the case counts are low and decreasing but total bed utilization and intensive care unit utilization rates are high.

    Level 3 will be for areas where COVID transmission is high and/or increasing and total bed utilization and intensive care unit utilization rates are also increasing, and Level 4 for areas where transmission is high and/or increasing and total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rates are also high.

    Alert Level 5 is for areas where COVID transmission is alarming, and total bed utilization and intensive care unit utilization rates are critical. The guidelines for ECQ will be observed in areas under Level 5.

    The guidelines state that under Alert Level 4, persons below 18 years old and above 65 years old, persons with immunodeficiencies, comorbidities or other health risks, and pregnant women are prohibited from going out, “provided that they shall be allowed access to obtain essential goods and services or for work in permitted industries and offices.”

    Individual outdoor exercises shall also be allowed for all ages regardless of comorbidities or vaccination status but shall be limited within the general area of their residence.

    In areas under Alert Level 4, al fresco dining shall be allowed up to a maximum 30 percent of the venue or seating capacity regardless of vaccination status, while indoor dine-in services shall be limited to 10 percent of venue or seating capacity and only for fully vaccinated customers.

    Personal care services such as barbershops, hair spas, nail spas, and beauty salons are allowed at a maximum of 30 percent venue capacity if services are conducted outdoors regardless of vaccination status, and up to 10 percent indoor venue/seating capacity for fully vaccinated persons.

    For religious gatherings, a maximum of 30 percent the venue/seating capacity is allowed if services are done outdoors regardless of vaccination status, and up to 10 percent of the venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals against COVID-19. Necrological services, wakes, inurnment, funerals for those who died of causes other than COVID-19 shall be allowed but limited to immediate family members.

    Indoor limited face to face or in-person classes, examinations, and other education-related activities at all levels, except those previously approved by the IATF and/or of the Office of the President, are not allowed in areas under Alert Level 4.

    Also not allowed to operate, or to be undertaken in areas classified under Alert level 4 are: indoor visitor or tourist attractions, libraries, archives, museums, galleries, and cultural shows and exhibits; indoor venues for meetings, incentives, conferences, events; indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas, and venues with live performers such as karaoke bars, bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters.

    Also not allowed are outdoor and indoor amusement parks or theme parks, funfairs, kid amusement industries such as playgrounds, playroom, and kiddie rides; indoor recreational venues such as internet cafes, billiard halls, amusement arcades, bowling alleys, and similar venues; casinos, horse racing, cockfighting and operation of cockpits, lottery and betting shops, and other gaming establishments except as may be authorized by the IATF or the Office of the President; social events such as but not limited to concerts and parties, wedding receptions, engagement parties, wedding anniversaries, debut and birthday parties, family reunions.

    Indoor sports courts or venues, fitness studios, gyms, spas or other indoor leisure centers or facilities, and swimming pools; all contact sports, except those conducted under a bubble-type setup as provided for under relevant guidelines adopted by the IATF, and approved by the LGU where such games shall be held; and personal care services from medical aesthetic clinics, cosmetic or derma clinics, make-up salons, reflexology, aesthetics, wellness, and holistic centers, and other similar establishments; acupuncture and electrocautery establishments, and massage therapy including sports therapy establishments, tanning services, body piercings, tattooing, and similar services are also not allowed.

    Under Alert Levels 2 and 3, people can go out unless there are “reasonable restrictions” imposed by the local government units (LGUs); and in areas under Alert Level 1, individuals can go out and move freely except in spaces that are “closed, crowded, or enable close contact.”

    Dine in services shall be allowed at 30 percent capacity under Level 3, at 50 percent capacity under Level 2, and at 100 percent capacity for take-out and delivery under Levels 2 and 3.

    All services of food preparation establishments shall be allowed at 100 percent under Level 1 provided that minimum public health standards are observed. Roque said there will be no distinctions in terms of vaccination in food establishments located in areas under Levels 1 to 3.

    For personal care services, all establishments in areas under Level 3 that provide personal care services shall be allowed at 30 percent capacity, Level 2 at 50 percent, and Level 1 at 100 percent.