Everything you need to know about Greater Manila’s GCQ bubble

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by Sharleen Banzon | Mar 22, 2021
PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño

What exactly is this ‘GCQ bubble’?

The GCQ bubble pertains collectively to Metro Manila and the surrounding provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. The Greater Manila Area, in other words, but it’s now also being called NCR Plus. Because all these areas are under general community quarantine, their borders remain open to each other, which means travel anywhere within the bubble remains mostly unrestricted.

How long is this bubble in place?

From today, March 22, until April 4, 2021—and the same goes for the stricter GCQ protocols currently implemented in the affected areas.

The latest restrictions include the closure of establishments like driving schools, the adoption of alternative work arrangements that will reduce on-site personnel to 30-50% capacity, and the banning of mass gatherings, including religious gatherings. You’ll have to rely on takeout or delivery for your bubble-tea fix and other food cravings, too, because dining in at restaurants is not allowed, unless establishments can set up outdoor dining areas that satisfy the requirements set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

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Traveling anywhere within the bubble is allowed?

Yes, but there’s a 10pm-to-5am curfew that only exempts workers, cargo vehicles, public transport, and those dealing with medical emergencies. Otherwise, public-transport passenger capacities are unchanged, and the same protocols apply: Wear face masks and face shields at all times, no eating and drinking, avoid talking on the phone, maintain physical distancing. We’ll see in the coming days whether there’s any improvement in how these protocols are enforced.

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The restriction is less about where you can travel within the GCQ bubble, and more about who can actually go out and do so. Pregnant women, persons aged below 18 and above 65, and persons with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19 are strongly encouraged to stay at home unless for emergency purposes or to procure essential needs and services. Senior citizens older than 65 and persons with disabilities (PWDs) are allowed outdoors to do non-contact physical exercise, but the latter need a physician’s prescription or a PWD ID.

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What if I need to travel into or out of the GCQ bubble?

Your need has to classify you as an APOR, or an authorized person outside residence. Basically, you must be one of the following:

  1. Essential workers (must present IDs showing place of work and place of residence)
  2. Health and emergency frontline services personnel
  3. Government officials and government frontline personnel
  4. Authorized workers tasked with providing humanitarian assistance
  5. Persons required to travel for medical and humanitarian needs
  6. Persons en route to airports for essential travel abroad
  7. Persons crossing cities and towns to get to their place of work/business or their residence; these include persons traveling back home from leisure trips before the new restrictions were imposed, provided they are able to show proof of residence
  8. Returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is putting up QCPs or quarantine control points along the boundaries of Greater Manila to ensure that those passing through are traveling only for essential purposes.

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What about tourism within the GCQ bubble?

It’s allowed. Here’s where the balancing act comes into play: Tourism isn’t essential travel, but since we’re trying to revive the economy, hotel stays at establishments that have received an authorization to operate from the Department of Tourism are a go—only for persons aged 15 to 65.

Spot.ph has a list of 13 Metro Manila hotels that allow staycations. If you have a booking at a hotel located outside of Metro Manila but within the GCQ bubble, it would be prudent to get in touch ahead of time to check for other requirements. And if you’re traveling as a group, best to do so with members of your household. Now is not the time to meet up and reconnect with family and friends, even if the rules technically allow you to do so.

Finally, here’s something to consider at the end of the two-week GCQ bubble: In the event that travel restrictions into and out of the Greater Manila Area are lifted as planned on April 5, our advice is to hold off traveling immediately afterwards.

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Remember, this virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days, and its new variants are more transmissible. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, over eight thousand new COVID-19 cases were reported today, taking our total active case count to 80,970. And right now, we’re trying to contain all of that inside one massive bubble where, save for several restrictions, it’s mostly business as usual, because that’s the only way to keep the economy going. Just imagine what happens if we burst the bubble too soon.

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PHOTO: Jerome Ascaño
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