Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr.
The National Capital Region (NCR) is back in general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions as the government stepped up preparations against a new coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) surge generated by the Delta variant.
The classification will be in force until the end of July.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said on Friday President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to once again place Metro Manila in GCQ with heightened restrictions Thursday night, after the Department of Health (DoH) confirmed the local transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Also in GCQ with heightened restrictions until the end of July are Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur, which were previously under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).
From modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), Davao de Oro and Davao del Norte have been placed under GCQ with heightened restrictions.
Davao del Sur, which was previously in MECQ, is now in GCQ.
Delta linked to local cases
The DoH said it detected more than 20 locally sourced Delta cases.
It said analysis by the Philippine Genome Center and the DoH’s Epidemiology Bureau confirmed that the new clusters of Delta cases were believed to be linked to other local cases.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there were “onward transmissions” between returning overseas Filipinos as well as case clustering among families.
Vergeire told reporters Friday the clusters included a health care worker who spread the infection to his family members and an OFW who came home for the burial of his mother and who infected the mother’s best friend.
The clusters were detected in Northern Mindanao and in Antique.
In a television interview, Vergeire said the DoH would investigate if breaches in the country’s quarantine protocols allowed the Delta variant to get in.
“We are looking at different factors, there could be breaches, there were no assessments when they were discharged, these are the things that we are assuming right now,” she said.
The country has 47 Delta cases, 23 of them local cases and 24 returning overseas Filipinos.
Six of the 12 local Delta cases reported on Thursday came from Bataan, two from Laguna, two from Pasig City, and one each from Manila and Taguig City.
OCTA Research reported a 39-percent jump in daily cases during the period of July 16 to 22, translating to a reproduction number of 1.21.
The cities of Manila, Caloocan and Valenzuela reported increases of more than 40 percent, while Makati had a high average daily attack rate of 11.71 cases per 100,000 people, classifying it as a high-risk area.
Roque said Duterte called the IATF to a special meeting on Saturday to discuss the local transmission of the Delta variant.
To prevent more Delta cases from entering the country, the government has expanded its travel ban to include Malaysia and Thailand.
Roque said the ban on travelers from those two countries will take effect starting 12:01 a.m. of July 25 until 11:59 p.m. of July 31.
Passengers already in transit from Indonesia and all those who have been there within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines who arrive before July 25 are not covered by the restriction.
But they have to undergo the full 14-day facility-based quarantine, even if they have passed a negative RT-PCR or reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test.
Travelers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman are already banned from entering the Philippines.
On Friday, Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd pressed the DoH and the IATF to step up measures to head off a surge triggered by the Delta variant.
Sotto said policymakers and health experts must be ready in case such a surge breaks out.
Sotto suggested the reimposition of strict mobility protocols including banning mass gatherings, which he said could easily become superspreader events.
He backed the recommendation of the 17 mayors of Metro Manila to stop all outdoor activities for children over five years old and said that suspending the policy would greatly lessen the number of people in public spaces, and thus slow down the transmission of the coronavirus.
National Economic and Development Authority Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon on Friday said the health sector must take advantage of the heightened restrictions in Metro Manila to build up its response to the Delta variant.
During a briefing, Edillon said heightened restrictions would also play a key role in the distribution of vaccines.
“A silver lining is that while this Delta variant is already in the country, our vaccine supply continues to arrive and our vaccination rate is increasing,” she said in Filipino.
Businesses should continue to “Covid-proof” their operations in order to maintain economic activity, Edillon said.
The government still sees the economy recovering between 6 and 7 percent this year.
The Development Budget Coordination Committee said a more aggressive implementation of the prevention, detection, isolation, treatment and recovery strategy as well as full vaccination of residents in high-risk areas will help boost consumer and business confidence, strengthen the country’s health system and prevent community transmissions of the Delta variant.
WITH JAVIER JOE ISMAEL AND MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO