Changing quarantine phases: Little window to implement lockdown rules derails daily ops

April 13, 2021 - 6:52 PM
Face shield policy in the Philippines
A bus driver and passengers wear face masks and face shields, both mandatory in public transportation, to help curb coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, August 19, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

Local government employees and other citizens could no longer keep up with the sudden changes in quarantine rules nearly every week.

Social media users expressed these concerns after the national government announced that the NCR Plus comprising the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna shifted to a new type of modified enhanced community quarantine starting last Monday until April 30.

This development came after the two-week tougher enhanced community version implemented over these areas to supposedly help curb the continuous surge in infections in the country.

The provinces of Quirino, Abra and Santiago City in Isabela were also placed under the same quarantine phase.

In the briefing on Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque enumerated the differences between the MECQ implemented in May and August last year and this version. These are:

  • Some religious gatherings are allowed at 10% of the venue capacity; local governments are authorized to raise this at 30%
  • Gathering for necrological services, wakes, inurnment, funerals
  • Also allowed to move are immediate family members to attend the wake or internment of the deceased
  • Face-to-face classes are still suspended
  • Curfew hours, meanwhile, are subject to the guidelines of local government units

In Metro Manila, the members of the Metro Manila Council decided to impose curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The industries allowed to operate, meanwhile, are released on the official Facebook page of the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson.

In terms of enforcement, Police Brigadier General Ildebrandi Usana, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police, told that there will be no changes in the checkpoints and other mandated protocols.

“Nothing is going to change in our checkpoints. The usual ECQ and MECQ violations are not wearing face shields and masks, mass gathering, physical distancing, and provisions of RA 11332. That’s it. Whatever the violations, the chief has since directed our commanders in the NCR Plus bubble not to arrest the violators,” Usana said.

Criticisms vs quarantine changes

The shift to a new lockdown phase was only announced last Sunday, April 11.

The guidelines, meanwhile, were only released the next day, which was also the start of the MECQ period.

Local government units and other Filipinos in places under MECQ, therefore, have only nearly a day to make adjustments to their daily schedules.

Former Commission of Elections commissioner Goyo Larrazabal was among those who criticized the “little window” on Twitter.

“FYI people can’t plan out work next week, because the new quarantine restrictions will be released Monday yet. So, you can’t plan work, schedules, business operating hours, whether to call back your employees to work, etc. because you don’t know the new restrictions,” Larrazabal said.

“So, you don’t know how to keep the economy going by opening next week, because some people can’t work during the weekend? You’ll know what the quarantine restrictions will be imposed…..on the same day the current restrictions expire,” he added.

Michael King, an employee of Valenzuela City Parks, also echoed this view, saying that local government employees also have a hard time adjusting to the continuous changes in quarantine protocols.

“Kami nga sa gobyerno (LGU) nahihilo na sa quarantine rules, paano pa ang ordinaryong tao. Bukas, clueless na naman ang mamamayan. May pasok ba? Permitted na ba ang establishment namin? May masasakyan ba? Makakauwi ba ako ng maayos? Huhulihin ba ako? Pwede ba umangkas?” King said.

Acclaimed writer Lualhati Bautista also provided context on the impact of such a confusing system.

“Pa’no yon, nagkasiksikan sa bigayan ng ayuda, halos nagkapalit-palit na ng mukha, mukhang lalong magpipista ang covid, saka biglang alis ng ECQ, biglang pasok ang MECQ! Haha,” Bautista wrote.

“Pahingi nga po ng dagdag na talino. Naiintindihan ko ang paghihirap ng ekonomiya pero hindi ko talaga maintindihan ang sistema ng gubyernong ito… I mean, kung meron man,” she added.

Some Filipinos aired their frustrations in the form of witty wordplay using the different quarantine names.

During the past two weeks of ECQ, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in charge of recommending the quarantine phase for NCR Plus only met every Saturday and announced the quarantine phase on the same day or a day after.