DOF chief sees further easing of restrictions

Czeriza Valencia - The Philippine Star
DOF chief sees further easing of restrictions
Sought for comment yesterday if the start of the inoculation program for frontline health workers would facilitate the easing of quarantine restrictions at least in Metro Manila by next month, the finance chief replied: “I believe so.”
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — Further reopening of the economy in the near term will be more likely now with the start of the COVID vaccination program, according to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III.

Sought for comment yesterday if the start of the inoculation program for frontline health workers would facilitate the easing of quarantine restrictions at least in Metro Manila by next month, the finance chief replied: “I believe so.”

Dominguez said the government would also coordinate with the private sector, which may have their own vaccination programs for their employees.

“National and local governments are working together with the private sector to ensure that all adults are inoculated as soon as possible,” he told reporters.

The government began its vaccination drive against COVID-19 yesterday using the first 600,000 doses of China-made CoronaVac donated by the Chinese government.

Philippine General Hospital director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi received the first shot of the vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech.

The vaccines arrived Sunday afternoon at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City and were processed and released through the advance clearance process of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

President Duterte said that with the start of the mass vaccination program for the priority population, he would consider transitioning Metro Manila to the most lenient modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

Economic managers have recommended placing the entire Philippines under MGCQ beginning March to arrest income and job loss caused by a prolonged lockdown, but Duterte rejected it, saying it could not be done until the vaccination drive starts.

Meanwhile, cinemas, driving schools, museums and some tourist attractions will be allowed to operate in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas starting March 5, as part of the government’s push for further reopening the economy, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said.

In Memorandum Circular 21-08 dated Feb. 28 but released yesterday, the DTI said it has recategorized traditional cinemas; driving schools; video and interactive game arcades; libraries, archives, museums and cultural centers; tourist attractions like parks, theme parks, natural sites and historical landmarks; and meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions to Category III from Category IV, allowing their reopening in areas under GCQ.

In particular, cinemas would be allowed to operate at a maximum of 25 percent capacity in GCQ areas and 50 percent in those under MGCQ, subject to health and safety protocols and additional guidelines from the Department of Health (DOH) and local government units (LGUs).

Driving schools would be allowed to operate up to 100 percent capacity in both GCQ and MGCQ areas.

As for game arcades, libraries, archives, museums, cultural centers, meetings and conventions, as well as limited tourist attractions, the allowed maximum operating capacity is at 50 percent for GCQ areas and 75 percent for those under MGCQ.

Limited social events will be restricted to 30 percent in GCQ and 50 percent in MGCQ areas, and must be held at accredited establishments of the Department of Tourism (DOT), as well as subject to the DTI and DOT’s Joint MC 2021-001 covering amended guidelines on the conduct of essential meetings and social events in areas under GCQ.

The DTI MC will take effect on March 5, upon its publication and filing with the University of the Philippines Law Center.

“This is part of our mandate to ensure that as more businesses reopen to provide more jobs and sources of income for our countrymen, the strict health protocols are enforced,” Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said.

To ensure business establishments comply with the health and safety protocols, the DTI, through the Fair Trade Enforcement Bureau and regional or provincial offices, will continue monitoring through its post-audit mechanism.

Most parts of the country are now under MGCQ.

Those under GCQ for the whole month of March are Metro Manila, Apayao, Baguio City, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao City and Lanao del Sur.

Reconsider adjusted holiday sked

Malacañang should reconsider its decision to make All Souls’ Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as “special working holidays,” warning that the move threatens to cut the take-home pay of thousands of workers, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said the Palace should withdraw and reverse Proclamation No. 1107, which makes previously special non-working holidays Nov. 2, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 special working holidays, as the order is “nothing short of disastrous for workers already dealing with a pandemic and an economic crisis.”

“While we understand the need to increase economic productivity, demoting special Filipino holidays to special working holidays will only burden and demoralize Filipino workers, many of whom are already underpaid and struggling with high prices of goods,” she said.

“What is the motivation to suddenly make them working holidays? There are other special non-working holidays that can be moved,” she added.

Hontiveros also noted that because of the proclamation, people who go to work during the three voided special holidays will no longer be entitled to the additional holiday pay of 30 percent of their daily basic wage.

At Malacañang, a Cabinet official said President Duterte may agree to ease restrictions nationwide and allow face-to-face classes in the second quarter if the government sustains a stockpile of at least two million vaccine doses.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. yesterday said the Philippines is expected to receive 5.1 million COVID-19 shots within the first quarter and another 26 million shots by the second quarter. He said bulk of the jabs may arrive in the second half of the year.

“So more or less, we will have about 50 to 60 million each in the third quarter and fourth quarter,” Galvez said at a press briefing.

Galvez said the further reopening of the economy and holding of in-person classes are possible in the second quarter. He said he has spoken with the finance department and vaccine negotiators to ensure that the two million stockpile requirement is complied with.

He said the Philippines’ vaccine stockpile may reach 10 million doses in the second quarter with the expected arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines in May and the 6.5 million doses acquired through the COVAX facility, as well the procurement of Novavax jabs. – Louella Desiderio, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero

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