Within the week, President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to decide on whether or not the entire country may be placed under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) come March. If approved, the nationwide shift to the least restrictive form of quarantine—which is in line with the proposal of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), and favored by nine out of 17 Metro Manila mayors—would mean two changes to the way we get around: Public-transport capacity would increase to 75%, and domestic travel requirements across the country would be harmonized.
Currently, public transport is operating at 50% capacity and limited by the ‘one seat apart’ policy. LGUs, meanwhile, have different requirements for travelers entering their jurisdictions.
“We leave the NEDA proposal to the evaluation of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) being the primary agency tasked to formulate plans and rules during this period of the pandemic as the country moves forward toward the new normal,” the Department of Transportation said in a statement.
The DOTr has so far only said that COVID-19 health protocols will still be strictly “observed and enforced” should passenger capacity in public transport be increased, prompting Metro Manila mayors to call for MGCQ-specific guidelines to be issued by the agency. “We want to see the DOTr guidelines on this matter because under the rule, when you should shift to MGCQ, guidelines should be issued by the [DOTr], but this is still not being done as we speak,” the Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina City was quoted as saying in an Inquirer.net report.
Meanwhile, a nationwide MGCQ would remove redundancies in domestic travel requirements and eliminate “fragmented travel regulations,” thus encouraging local tourism, said Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya.
“The people are confused about travel regulations because they vary from province to province,” Malaya said in a statement. “While some LGUs require a Travel Authority, some do not. Some LGUs require an antigen test, some do not. Some LGUs require PCR tests, some do not. Some even require 14-day quarantine regardless of PCR results. We need the regulations to be streamlined and placing the country under one classification would help in the ongoing harmonization.”
Malaya stressed that the relaxation of travel restrictions goes hand in hand with “managing the health risks through other means.”: “We need to take a hard look if the regulations we impose are consistent with scientific data on prevention of COVID-19 transmission.
“We’re not saying that we will remove all travel restrictions and go back to where we came from. That’s impossible because COVID-19 is still here. We just need to streamline because we need our revive economy and address the hunger, loss of jobs, and economic opportunities that came as a result of the travel restrictions.”
The official added that the domestic airline industry, despite the reopening of major airports across the country, continues to struggle “due to fragmented LGU regulations compared to our ASEAN neighbors where Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have already revived their domestic travel industry to 2019 levels.”
President Duterte could announce the country’s quarantine classification for March on Wednesday, February 24, at the earliest. As of February 22, the country has logged a total of 563,456 COVID-19 cases, of which 28,488 are active.
What do you think of the proposed shift to MGCQ, and how would this affect your daily commute and travel plans?