Lockdown in Metro Manila to ease on June 1

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A store is blocked with makeshift barricades in Manila amid the Luzon-wide lockdown, March 24. -- REUTERS

By Gillian M. Cortez, Reporter

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Thursday evening ordered the further easing of the lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby cities starting June 1, as the government tries to restart an economy that the coronavirus pandemic brought to a near standstill.

The announcement comes on the same day when the Health department announced 539 new infections — its highest daily increase of COVID-19 cases in over two months. This brought the nationwide tally to 15,588 cases, with 921 deaths.

In a televised speech, the President said Metro Manila will be placed under a general community quarantine after more than two months of strict quarantine that is one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world.

“You know the NCR (National Capital Region) will now be placed under the general community quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1,” Mr. Duterte said.

He said Davao City, Region 2 (Cagayan Valley), Region 3 (Central Luzon), Region 4-A (CALABARZON consisting of Cavite, Laguna, Batagas, Rizal, and Quezon), Pangasinan, and Albay will also be placed under GCQ.

“The rest of the country will be placed under modified general community quarantine (…) From time to time…(Palace Spokesperson Harry L.) Roque will give us the changes where there will be changes,” the President said.

As businesses begin resuming operations next month, Mr. Duterte urged building owners and mall operators to not force tenants to pay rent.

“If you are not earning, how are you supposed to pay? Maawa naman kayo sa mga kababayan natin (Have pity on our countrymen) … If it does not spell bankruptcy sa inyo, tiisin ninyo na lang (please endure it),” he said.

The Philippine economy contracted by 0.2% in the first quarter, after Mr. Duterte placed Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine in mid-March. The lockdown halted economic activity, prompting government officials to warn of even worse economic figures in the second quarter.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a briefing Thursday that Metro Manila is ready to transition into a relaxed quarantine if the doubling rates of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases decrease.

Mr. Roque expressed confidence the public will also practice discipline in complying with health protocols.

The government is pushing for expanded targeted testing, saying it already went over its initial goal of a 30,000 daily testing capacity last May 20.