BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and VICTOR REYES
METRO Manila will be under Alert Level 3 starting October 16 until 31, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said as he announced the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to ease restrictions amid improvements in the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in the region.
Roque said the IATF has also approved revised guidelines for the implementation of the Alert Levels System for COVID-19 response.
Alert level 3 is defined by the IATF as “areas wherein case counts are high and/or increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at increasing utilization.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a key member of the IATF, said the downgrade was approved by the IATF through a resolution which they passed during their meeting on Wednesday.
Año said the decision was based on “the decrease in case transmission and our healthcare utilization also went down.”
He likewise noted the high vaccination rate in the region. “Our vaccinated population is now above 70 percent and we’re starting the vaccination of adolescents,” the DILG chief said.
Año said the pilot implementation of the alert level system in NCR, which started a month ago, was a success, and could already be adopted outside of the region “maybe next month.”
“We may expand the alert level pilot testing in areas in Region XI (Davao region), Region 7 (Central Visayas), Region 4-A (Calabarzon). We may expand it for the month (of November),” he said.
The new IATF guidelines show that under the Alert Level 3, outdoor exercises shall be allowed for all ages regardless of comorbidities or vaccination status.
Limited face-to-face or in-person classes for higher education and for technical-vocational education and training shall also be allowed, as well as in-person religious gatherings and gatherings for necrological services, wakes, inurnment, and funerals for those who died of causes other than COVID-19, and for the cremation of those who died of the virus, up to a maximum of 30 percent indoor venue capacity is permitted.
Also allowed at 30 percent venue capacity are the conduct of licensure or entrance/qualifying examinations administered by government agencies, and specialty examinations authorized by the IATF subject to the health and safety guidelines as approved by the task force.
Some establishments or activities are also allowed to operate or be undertaken at a maximum of 30 percent indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals only and 50 percent outdoor venue capacity, provided that all workers or employees of these establishments are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
These establishments or activities include dine-in services in food preparation establishments such as kiosks, commissaries, restaurants, and eateries; and personal care establishments such as barbershops, hair spas, hair salons, and nail spas, and those offering aesthetic/cosmetic services or procedures, make-up services, salons, spas, reflexology, and other similar procedures including home service options.
Also allowed to operate at 30 percent capacity are fitness studios, gyms, and venues for non-contact exercise and sports, provided that patrons/clients and workers/employees wear face masks at all times and that no group activities are conducted; film, music, and television production; venues for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE), and venues for social events such as parties, wedding receptions, engagement parties, wedding anniversaries, debut and birthday parties, family reunions, and bridal or baby showers; and tourist attractions such as libraries, archives, museums, galleries, exhibits, parks, plazas, public gardens, scenic viewpoints or overlooks, and the like.
The IATF also permitted activities at 30 percent venue capacity in amusement parks or theme parks, recreational venues such as internet cafes, billiard halls, amusement arcades, bowling alleys, skating rinks, archery halls, swimming pools, and similar venues; and cinemas and movie houses.
Not allowed under Alert Level 3 are the following establishments and/or activities characterized as high-risk for transmission: face-to-face classes for basic education, except those previously approved by the IATF and/or the Office of the President; contact sports, except those conducted under a bubble-type setup as provided for under relevant guidelines adopted by the IATF, Games and Amusement Board, and Philippine Sports Commission, and approved by the LGU where such games shall be held; funfairs and kid amusement industries such as playgrounds, playroom, and kiddie rides; venues with live voice or wind-instrument performers and audiences such as in karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters; 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; and gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household.
9 PROVINCES, 2 CITIES UNDER MECQ
Roque said the IATF placed the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga, Batanes, Bulacan, Bataan, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, and Zamboanga del Norte; and the cities of Naga and Zamboanga under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from October 16 until 31.
On the other hand, Abra, Baguio City, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Isabela, City of Santiago, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Quezon, and Batangas under general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions for the same period.
Also under the GCQ with heightened restrictions from October 16 to 31 are the cities of Bacolod, Lapu-Lapu, Cagayan de Oro, and Butuan; and the provinces of Capiz, Negros Oriental, Bohol, Zamboanga del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Norte, Davao Occidental, Davao de Oro, and Surigao del Sur.
Under GCQ are Ilocos Norte, Dagupan City, Ifugao, Benguet, Tarlac, Lucena City, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Puerto Princesa, Marinduque, Albay, and Camarines Norte in Luzon; Aklan, Antique, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, Iloilo City, Iloilo Province, Cebu City, Cebu Province, Mandaue City, Siquijor, and Tacloban City in the Visayas; and Zamboanga Sibugay, Misamis Occidental, Iligan City, Davao City, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Dinagat Islands, Cotabato City, and Lanao del Sur in Mindanao.
All other areas shall be placed under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).
Roque said the IATF also revised the rules for the green lanes for international arriving passengers or passengers coming from “green countries” which shall be effective starting October 14.
Under the latest guidelines, fully vaccinated Filipinos can choose to undergo RT-PCR testing upon arrival in the country and stay in facility-based quarantine centers until the release of their negative results, or forego a facility-based quarantine after getting a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to their departure from the country of origin.
Filipinos who will not undergo RT-PCR upon arrival in the country must self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day.
Fully vaccinated foreign nationals who are arriving in the country, however, are required to submit a negative RT-PCR test which shall be taken within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin.
They shall not be required to go on a facility-based quarantine upon arrival in the country but are enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day.
Roque said for arriving Filipinos who are “unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, individuals whose vaccination status cannot be independently verified, and those vaccinated but failed to comply with the test-before-travel requirements” are required to undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test that will be taken on the fifth day from their arrival.