Duterte gov't backtracks, extends MECQ in Metro Manila

In a last-minute backtrack, the Philippines' coronavirus task force retained the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila until September 15, delaying the expected transition of the capital region to a new lockdown system.

"Metro Manila's current risk classification as MECQ shall be maintained until September 15, 2021, or until the pilot [general community quarantine] with alert level system is implemented, whichever comes first," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque confirmed on Tuesday, September 7.

"Having said this, indoor and al-fresco dine-in services, and personal care services, including beauty salons, beauty parlors, and nail spas shall remain prohibited," he added.

Metro Manila was supposed to begin on Wednesday, September 8, the implementation of a new community quarantine system – one that's more focused on granular lockdowns instead of wide-scale ones.

Government officials from the interior and health departments have also previously offered clues about the use of four "alert levels" to determine the allowed operating capacity of high-risk business establishments, such as spas, gyms, and restaurants.

Specific guidelines, however, remained unclear as of Tuesday, the day of the supposed expiration of the metropolis' MECQ status.

It became apparent on Tuesday afternoon that protocols under the new lockdown system have yet to be finalized, after Roque held off an announcement which was supposed to explain "four pages" of guidelines.

He had said the national pandemic task force secretariat was still entertaining more inputs from mayors of the capital region.

The deferred shift to a new lockdown system in Metro Manila comes as the urban sprawl struggles to contain the threat of the highly infectious Delta variant. Active cases as of Tuesday stood at 158,000.

More details to follow. – with a report from Pia Ranada/Rappler.com