PH enters 'Phase 3' of COVID-19 plan: Allowing more people to go out while keeping health protocols

The Philippines enters "Phase 3" of the Duterte government's plan to address the coronavirus pandemic in the month of October, a phase that will involve allowing more businesses to operate and more people to leave their homes while abiding by health protocols.

This was what National Action Plan Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr explained on Thursday, October 8, during a Malacañang press briefing.

"Phase 3 will be our transition plan to the new normal from the last quarter of this year rolling down the road towards the first quarter of 2021," he said.

Phase 3 will thus last from October to March 2021, assuming significant spikes in COVID-19 infections don't derail this timeline.

This phase "is anchored on effective risk management in managing our health risk while opening our restriction and economy and learn to live with the virus until the vaccine is available," said Galvez.

The Philippines had reached Phase 2 of the plan back in early August, a phase when the country was building up its hospital capacity, isolation centers, and contact tracing, hence the need for stricter quarantine measures.

When medical frontliners called for Metro Manila to be reverted to a stricter quarantine mode on August 2, the government acceded to this in order to decongest hospitals that were seeing an increase in patients.

Phase 1 involved the March lockdowns of Metro Manila and Luzon when only essential businesses were allowed to operate and public transportation was suspended.

What will Phase 3 look like?

In Phase 3, the government hopes to encourage more businesses and sectors to operate again and at higher capacities than before.

This means more people will be allowed to leave their homes. Galvez said the government is working on an information campaign that encourages Filipinos to pursue their livelihood while strictly observing rules on mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, and social distancing.

"It's important for people to have their awareness for self-protection and health safety. Once the people are aware, they can go out now with confidence that they will not be infected by the virus," said Galvez.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte himself is set to appear in a commercial that will promote the slogan, "Ingat buhay para sa hanapbuhay (Protect your life to pursue your livelihood)."

One thing people can expect in Phase 3 is that there will no longer be region-wide lockdowns (enhanced community quarantine or modified enhanced community quarantine).

"The massive ECQ is not sustainable. Draconian lockdowns have a negative impact on the economy," said Galvez.

Instead, "granular lockdowns" will be imposed in which only specific parts of a city or province will go on lockdown. Galvez pointed to the example of government locking down a construction site in Taguig City because of infections among construction workers there. Only the site itself was locked down, not the entire city.

It's particularly important to further reopen the economies of Metro Manila and nearby provinces which account for 60% of the country's economy.

Every week that Metro Manila is under quarantine, be it ECQ or MGCQ, shaves off 0.10 to 0.28 percentage points from potential annual GDP growth, according to the National Economic and Development Authority.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, among the most powerful voices in the Cabinet, wants Metro Manila under MGCQ, the most lenient quarantine classification, as soon as possible.

Cabinet meeting agenda

The particulars of reopening the economy under Phase 3 will be the agenda of the full Cabinet meeting on Monday, October 12, said Roque.

Economic managers are pushing to open the economy of Metro Manila and nearby provinces to 75%, from the current 50%.

The proposal to relax the one-meter rule in public transportation may also be raised again since economic officials think maximizing transportation will be key to revving up the economy.

One model the government is looking at is the current implementation of GCQ in Metro Manila. Galvez said this GCQ may be considered a "stricter MGCQ" because many more businesses have been allowed to operate compared to what the original version of the GCQ would have allowed. (READ: Coronavirus task force dilemma: Stricter MGCQ or more lenient GCQ in Metro Manila?) – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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