No vax, no ride,’ other restrictions lifted in Metro Manila, other areas under Alert Level 2

by Feb 2, 2022Featured Article, News

HITCH-FREE RIDE. Unvaccinated individuals may ride public transport without fear of being shooed away or offloaded as the “no vaccine, no ride” policy is lifted from Feb. 1 to 15 when Metro Manila comes under Alert Level 2. (Photo by RICHARD A. REYES / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The government will ease restrictions, particularly on the unvaccinated, in areas where it will restore the more relaxed Alert Level 2 from Feb. 1 to 15.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) announced on Sunday that the Metro Manila and the provinces of Cavite, Bulacan, Rizal, Batanes, Biliran, Southern Leyte, and Basilan will revert to Alert Level 2 beginning on Tuesday.

This was the quarantine status in the entire country before the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus led to a new surge of COVID-19 cases at the start of the year.

With these areas back to a more relaxed alert level, among the five levels determined by the Department of Health (DOH), the “no vaccine, no ride” policy and other restrictions intended to limit the mobility of unvaccinated commuters would be lifted, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Sunday.

He was referring to Department Order No. 2022-001 which the Department of Transportation (DOTr) issued on Jan. 11, enforcing the no vaccination, no ride policy on commuters in Metro Manila while the metropolis was under alert level 3.

In a Viber message to reporters on Sunday, Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope Libiran said, “once we deescalate to alert level 2, the policy shall automatically be lifted.”

Yet the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and local authorities in the capital region are still expected to announce if restrictions on the unvaccinated will be retained, no matter what was stipulated in the DOTr’s order.

Año himself said: “The local government units are also there and can pass ordinances for adjustments if we need some restrictions under Alert Level 2.”

Reopen the economy

In contrast, rules set by the IATF under alert level 2 were aimed at relaxing restrictions to further reopen the economy.

According to the task force, indoor and outdoor venue capacities in areas under that alert level would be restored, respectively, to 50 percent and 70 percent.

These include amusement parks and other recreational venues; in-person religious gatherings; licensure exams; dine-in services; personal care services; fitness studios and other venues for both contact and non-contact sports; film, music, and television productions; cinemas; meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (also referred to as MICE); social events; and tourist attractions.

Face-to-face classes and gatherings with live voice or wind instruments not allowed during Alert Level 3 may resume under Alert Level 2, but they will be subject to further government guidelines.

Casinos, however, cannot still reopen under the downgraded alert.

Private establishments that can secure the government’s safety seal will be permitted 20 percent additional operational or venue capacity.

Onsite capacity for front-line government agencies is increased to 80 percent effective Tuesday.

Latest bout

Año said the government was expecting crowds to again troop to malls and other public places, even as he urged the public to strictly adhere to minimum health standards such as wearing face masks and observing physical distancing.

“This means we can open up economic activities and what we need is the individual responsibility to watch yourself, self-isolate and look for symptoms if you came into close contact [with Covid-infected persons],” he told reporters.

“We will make adjustments in areas where we need to be strict,” Año also said, adding that the IATF and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 meet every week to reassess the government’s pandemic response.

He continued to warn against the persistent threat of the coronavirus and its variants.

Affirming his own case as someone already infected thrice, Año said all members of his household had also tested positive but were cleared two weeks later.

His latest bout with COVID-19 was on Jan. 11 but he was cleared after a week. 

“It’s nothing to worry about as long as you’re fully vaccinated,” the interior chief said.

‘Moderate risk’

Año said Omicron was very different from the other variants in that the infected could recover from mild symptoms in two weeks, especially those who have been fully vaccinated.

He said there was a decreasing number of COVID-19 cases which explained the downgrade to alert level 2 in NCR, as well as its reclassification by the DOH as under “moderate risk” on Friday.

The DOH said the capital region was back to moderate risk after its critical risk case classification in the period of Jan. 4 to 21, during the latest surge of coronavirus cases.

According to Año, the two-week growth rate and average daily attack rate have decreased in Metro Manila. Likewise, healthcare utilization rates have declined to less than 50 percent, with most persons infected with COVID-19 being quarantined at home instead.

But according to the OCTA Research group, the positivity rate, or the percentage of people tested who were found positive, remained high in Metro Manila and CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon) — ranging from 20 percent in Metro Manila to 42 percent in Laguna.

“The uptick in NCR [the National Capital Region or Metro Manila last Saturday] was a surprise and not really supported by other indicators,” OCTA Research fellow Guido David said in a tweet on Sunday.

Risk level

Still, David noted a decline in newly reported cases in the metropolis, saying that “NCR could improve to low risk within two weeks if the downtrend continues.”

He also said, “cases are decreasing in Region[s] 4-A (CALABARZON) and 3 (Central Luzon) and the rest of [the country] as a whole,” although the risk level in the CALABARZON provinces varied—from moderate in Cavite and Rizal to high risk in Batangas, Laguna, and Quezon.

Apart from the areas to be placed under alert level 2 tomorrow, all other provinces and cities in the country would be placed or retained under alert level 3 until Feb. 15, with the exception of Ifugao province. 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, IATF cochair and acting presidential spokesperson, said the task force would determine Ifugao’s alert level today.

The provinces of Palawan, Camiguin, Davao Occidental, Dinagat Islands, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi would remain under alert level 3, which took effect on Jan. 28, until Feb. 15.

Virus case update

Sunday’s case bulletin showed that newly reported cases slightly went down to 16,953 from 17,382 cases on Saturday.

This brought the total confirmed cases to 3,545,680, including 53,891 deaths, exactly two years since the country’s first-ever COVID-19 case was detected in a Chinese tourist from Wuhan, China.

The DOH reported 20 more people have died from COVID-19.