All areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) could shift to a more relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) by July 16, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Friday.
The further easing of lockdown restrictions is in line with the recently approved second National Action Plan (NAP) against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
In an interview over GMA’s “Unang Hirit,” Lorenzana said there was “an 80-percent chance” that the GCQ areas — including Metro Manila — will be placed under MGCQ, but this will depend on figures from the Department of Health (DoH), which are expected to come out by the end of next week.
The Philippines has been enforcing a graduated system of quarantine to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that Metro Manila alone might have over 75,000 cases and 6,000 to 10,000 deaths in three months’ time starting March.
Lorenzana said WHO’s dire forecast did not materialize because the government has been generally “successful” in implementing the lockdown.
The exception is Cebu City, where Covid-19 cases have spiked.
“Our main objective is for us to reach a plateau [in terms of Covid-19 figures], which means we must not let our case doubling to increase or reach more than seven days,” said Lorenzana, who is also chairman of the National Task Force Covid-19.
Only Cebu City remains under the stricter enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
On Friday, Malacañang announced that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has approved the second National Action Plan, which Lorenzana said focuses on gradually reopening the economy but with health protocols strictly enforced such as wearing of face masks, observance of proper hygiene and social distancing.
Also on Friday, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said religious gatherings would soon be allowed in GCQ areas.
Salons and barbershops will also be allowed to offer services other than cutting and styling hair.
Roque said the IATF-EID agreed to allow the resumption of religious activities in GCQ zones starting July 10, but only at 10-percent seating capacity.
In areas under modified GCQ, churches and other places of worship were allowed to accommodate up to half their total capacity.
Roque said the task force has also allowed barbershops and salons to provide more than just basic haircut services after it deleted the limitation mentioned in a previous resolution.
Last May, the task force allowed the partial reopening of barbershops and hair salons on June 7, on condition that they would only offer haircuts to their customers.
Other treatments like waxing, shaving, eyelash extensions, as well as manicure and pedicure services, were prohibited.
Roque said other services were now considered allowed “in principle.”
He said the IATF-EID also approved the recommendation of the Departments of Tourism and Department of Trade and Industry to allow travel agencies to resume operations in GCQ areas.
The agencies’ operations will be limited to a skeletal workforce and primarily to do administrative works such as processing of refunds and payment to suppliers.
As of July 2, the Philippines had 38,805 Covid-19 cases. The figure includes 1,274 deaths and 10,673 recoveries.
Under the second phase of the National Action Plan, Roque said the government aimed to promote “a change in people’s mindset with strong focus on health and disease prevention” as well as “strategically balance health and economic objectives.”
He said the government would also try to manage the movement of returning overseas Filipinos, local stranded individuals and local travelers.
The IATF-EID has also approved the expansion of the country’s testing program to include asymptomatic carriers or those without Covid-19 symptoms.
Roque said the testing expansion came as the country gained some 10 million Covid-19 testing kits.
Under the previous guidelines, health care workers and patients with severe or critical and mild symptoms and the vulnerable populations were prioritized for testing.
Deputy chief implementer of the government’s response against Covid-19 Vivencio Dizon earlier said the government’s testing capacity was at 50,000 but actual tests conducted were only at 16,000.
Dizon cited the need to test non-medical frontliners — including policemen, soldiers, supermarket personnel and even street vendors, since they were some of the “most susceptible” to the disease, and could potentially be some of the biggest spreaders.
There is also a plan to test employees coming back to work amid relaxed lockdown restrictions — including those working in the business process outsourcing industry and factories.
“The idea now is we have to shift the strategy in order to manage Covid-19 and keep the economy working, in order to make sure we can bounce back from the [contraction] we experienced in the first quarter,” Dizon said.
With reports from CATHERINE S. VALENTE