The government announced over the weekend that the lockdown of Metro Manila and four adjoining provinces would be eased to a GCQ, or general community quarantine but with “heightened restrictions.”

This odd announcement was met with confused queries on whether the movement of people would no longer be as strict as before or if it would be even stricter.

As of May 15, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal – collectively known as the Greater Manila Area or NCR Plus – will shift to a more relaxed quarantine status “with heightened restrictions” that will last until the end of the month.

Restrictions include limiting essential travel in and out of NCR Plus, while public transportation will only be available at capacities to be determined by the Department of Transportation.

Indoor dining allowed has been raised to 20 percent of seating capacity from the previous 10 percent, while outdoor dining is allowed at 50 percent capacity. Tourist attractions such as museums are allowed 30 percent capacity, while all kinds of religious gatherings are allowed up to 10 percent of venue capacity.

Roque said the “heightened restrictions” also meant that persons between 18 and 65 could leave their homes; outdoor non-contact sports would be allowed; and personal care services which do not require the removal of masks such as barber shops, beauty parlors, and clinics could reopen.

However, entertainment venues such as bars, concert halls, theaters, internet cafes, billiard halls, arcades, amusement parks, playgrounds, indoor tourist venues and meeting places for conferences and exhibitions were still not allowed to operate.

The Metro Manila Council – comprised of the 17 mayors of the metropolis along with the head of the Metro Manila Development Authority – proposed GCQ for NCR Plus, based on recommendations on hospital capacity, expected arrival of vaccines, decrease in new coronavirus cases, and economic conditions.

Following the surge of new cases around mid-March, various forms of “lockdown” were implemented in order to lower the number of coronavirus transmissions. New cases began to soar past the 5,000/day mark in mid-March after steadily declining to the 1,000 to 1,500 mark since the start of the year. By early April, the country saw an all-time high of 15,310 cases.

Since then, cases began to decline, back to below 5,000 mark as of last week.

There were signs of an opportunity for the lifting of restrictive quarantine conditions, Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Karl Chua said last week, after delivering news the country just experienced a fifth straight quarter of negative gross domestic product.

The Department of Health released data showing the decline in confirmed coronavirus cases, after the peak of early April.

In the last two weeks, the daily average was pegged at around 6,400 cases, which was significantly lower than the peak period of April 9 to 15, when the daily average was around 11,000.

The government is eyeing a return to a daily average of 1,800 before switching to the least stringent lockdown protocols. The figure was where the country stood in the first two months of this year but still considered high by World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

The WHO set an acceptable level of COVID-19 positivity rate at five percent or lower for at least two weeks.While the country has seen a decline in the positivity rate of 20.7 percent in the first two weeks of April to 14.7 percent in the last two weeks, this is still three times the recommended level set by the WHO. The latest rate is still more severe than some of the peaks reached last year.

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