Low-risk areas ease restrictions, but it’s still no party time anywhere

CURFEW, shopping and entry passes, wearing of face mask, and checkpoints are among the rules that remain strictly in place in areas that have transitioned starting May 1 into the general community quarantine (GCQ), a government classification wherein restrictions are eased on public transport, business operations, and government offices. Towns, cities, and provinces that have been directed to adopt the GCQ policy are those considered under low risk of a localized coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. But leaders and health authorities in these areas are avoiding the onset of a relaxed attitude among the public as the threat of the highly-contagious disease remains high. “Even if we are now on GCQ, we still need to observe stricter measures because we still have cases everyday,” Sarangani Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon said in a statement on Wednesday. Sarangani is among the few provinces that has no recorded COVID-19 case, but the region to which it belongs — South Cotabato-Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos City (SOCCSKSARGEN) — still has 38 suspected cases in hospital as of May 5. SOCCKSARGEN had 10 cases, with eight recoveries and one death. The lone COVID-19 patient in General Santos (GenSan), who recovered and was discharged from hospital care last April 18, tested positive anew on May 5 but remains asymptomatic. The GenSan government, in a separate statement, stressed that while the patient is being monitored daily, it highlights the need to strictly observe health safety measures such as physical distancing in public areas and simply staying at home.

Maria Elinore A. Concha, chief training officer at the Southern Philippine Medical Center (SPMC), said the most important consideration when lifting lockdowns is ensuring that potential COVID-19 transmissions are “under control.” In a virtual briefing Tuesday, she explained that controlling the threat of transmission means having a system for early detection, isolation facilities for suspected cases, and managing the patients. SPMC, located in Davao City, is the biggest government-run hospital in Mindanao and a designated COVID-19 referral center as well as one of the accredited COVID-19 testing laboratories. Ms. Concha also said the risk of “importing new cases can be managed” if communities are fully educated and engaged “to live under a new normal.” With the entire Mindanao, except Davao City, now under GCQ, people who have been stranded elsewhere and displaced overseas Filipino workers have started to go back to their southern hometowns. Davao City, although under the strict enhanced community quarantine policy, is easing some restrictions to allow the scheduled exit of people who have been stuck there, initially a 12-hour window on May 8, as well as the return of its residents. “We still have to set the borders for this, and prepare doctors who will man the borders,” said Regina Rosa D. Tecson, head of the City Tourism Operations Office. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, in her regular updates over the city-run radio station on Monday, told the public to “manage” their expectations about GCQ, saying the transition will not mean time to plan parties and leisure activities. Citing the protocols issued by the national government, Ms. Carpio said, “If you read the guidelines, it’s still limited. People may be preparing for their parties when we go back to GCQ…. Under the GCQ, movement of all persons shall be limited to accessing essential goods and services, and for work in the offices or industries permitted to operate. Movement for leisure purposes is not allowed.” — Maya M. Padillo and Carmelito Q. Francisco