PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte retained the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in Metro Manila and nine other areas in the country for March, Malacañang announced on Saturday.

HARD HABIT TO BREAK Wearing of face masks and face shields have become a habit for most people as protection against Covid-19 infection. Malacañang announced on Feb. 27, 2021 that President Rodrigo Duterte decided to retain the GCQ status in Metro Manila and nine other areas until the vaccines arrive in the country. PHOTO BY MIKE ALQUINTO

Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said aside from the National Capital Region (NCR or Metro Manila), under GCQ until March 31 are Batangas; Baguio City, Apayao, Kalinga and Mountain Province in the Cordillera Administrative Region; Tacloban City for the Visayas; and Davao City, Iligan City and Lanao del Sur for Mindanao.

The rest of the country will be under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

The new community quarantine classifications came days after Duterte rejected the proposal to place the country under MGCQ until the country’s Covid-19 vaccination program had started.

‘Good decision’

Dr. Guido David, Octa Research fellow, said retaining the GCQ status in the NCR and in several other local government units (LGUs) was a “good decision” to control the surge of cases, especially in the NCR where more than 900 cases have been recorded for the past two days.

Speaking in Filipino, David told a Laging Handa public briefing on Saturday that it would be more difficult to curb the spread under an MGCQ.

David attributed the rise in cases in Metro Manila not to the so-called “holiday surge” in December and January and Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year in February but to a “genuine increase and trajectory, similar to the one that we saw in Cebu City.”

The current reproduction number in Metro Manila has also increased — from 1.32 to 1.43 — which means that an average of 2,500 cases per day may be experienced before the end of March, the same situation in August 2020, when medical frontliners called for a timeout.

David also hinted at the possibility that new variants or mutations of Covid-19 might have contributed to the increase but added that only genome sequencing can determine if the variants have spread.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in her weekly segment in the Laging Handa public briefing, blamed the continued easing of restrictions and noncompliance with minimum health standards to the upward trend.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. echoed the sentiments of David and Vergeire, saying the decision would enable Metro Manila mayors to improve on their contact tracing and isolation activities.

Abalos and David also commended the swift action by Mayor Imelda Calixto-Rubiano and the Pasay City local government in locking down villages with a high increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. Pasay has recorded the highest spike at 160 percent.

Nine of 17 mayors in the NCR backed a shift to MGCQ by March, which marks a year since the country was first placed under quarantine.