The national government has approved the guidelines for a new Alert Level and Granular Lockdown System on Monday, September 13, announced Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque later that day.
The new system will be piloted in Metro Manila from September 16 to 30, with Alert Level 4 to be imposed over the region, said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Tuesday.
The alert level scheme is designed to replace the current system of quarantine classification comprised of ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, and MGCQ. The new system is more relaxed with age mobility restrictions and provides some perks to fully-vaccinated people.
Below is a guide to how the new system will work, based on explanations made by Roque and Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing on September 10 and the guidelines released by Roque on Monday.
In the new scheme, there will only be two quarantine classifications to be declared over a region – enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and a new version of GCQ.
Under this GCQ, there will be alert levels declared over each city or municipality – Alert Levels 1 to 5. These alert levels will determine which types of establishments can open and how much of their venue capacity will be allowed. The ECQ classification is also referred to as Alert Level 5.
It's only on Alert Levels 4 and 5 that high-risk establishments will be ordered totally closed. Under the lower levels, places like gyms, restaurants, meeting venues, and personal care services like spas and salons can remain open to a certain degree.
Also, on Alert Levels 1 to 3, there will no longer be age-based mobility restrictions, unless cities themselves impose them on certain age groups.
Alert Level 4 is when perks for vaccinated persons will kick in. Only fully-vaccinated people can dine in restaurants indoors, attend religious gatherings indoors, or have their hair and nails done inside salons.
These alert levels will be decided by the Department of Health (DOH) every week for every city or town, in close coordination with Metro Manila mayors.
It will be the national task force, however, that will have the power to impose ECQ, which Roque said, could be called "Alert Level 5."
High-risk establishments have been categorized into three: Crowded (like venues for religious gatherings or meetings and conferences), Closed (like indoor gyms), and Close Contact (personal care services like salons, spas).
Establishments not included in these categories will be allowed to operate in full under all alert levels. They may only be closed when the government declares ECQ, which Densing said would be a "last resort."
Public transportation will be "normalized" and fully-operational under any of the alert levels, said Densing. It will only be heavily restricted under ECQ.
The difference, said Densing, is that the alert levels restrict only high-risk activities and establishments while leaving alone all others.
"There is a semblance of normalcy. In fact, some non-essentials will be allowed. For instance, under MECQ, non-essential travel is disallowed but in this new system, even in Alert Level 4, non-essential travel will be allowed and the traveler will just be restricted based on the protocols of the LGU of destination," said the interior undersecretary.
It's the DOH that will announce the per-city alert levels. However, for the pilot period in Metro Manila, all cities and its lone municipality will be under just one alert level.
A critical aspect of the scheme is the imposition of stricter 14-day granular or localized lockdowns by local government units.
A granular lockdown can cover very specific parts of a city or town – like a street, barangay, or floor of a condominium where high COVID-19 transmissions were detected. Duration will be standardized – always 14 days long.
In this type of lockdown, no one will be allowed to go in or out, except for the following:
Because of these strict mobility restrictions, the local government and national government (Department of Social Welfare and Development) will provide meals for all persons under granular lockdown.
The government is encouraging private companies to allow their employees under lockdown to work from home, said Roque.
When an area is under granular lockdown, the local government will do the following:
The government cites data showing that 80% of all COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila come from just 11% to 30% of its barangays.
This means, according to Densing, that if cases in those barangays can be isolated and treated properly through granular lockdowns, the rest of the region need not suffer from hard lockdowns.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.