Metro Manila has long been pegged as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines for most of 2020, and even into 2021 that has not changed. When new cases of COVID actually increased exponentially shortly after vaccination of medical workers began, facilities to take care of patients have gone back to critical levels unseen since it happened last year, threatening businesses and the larger economy that has never quite gotten the chance to recover yet. To address the swell of infection, the national government is enclosing both Metro Manila and four neighboring provinces in a bubble economy under stricter general enhanced community quarantine standards beginning Monday this week.
CNN Philippines reports that a bubble with specific standards of GCQ has been set up over the National Capital Region (NCR), Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, as of this March 22. It will last two weeks, encompassing Holy Week, until Easter Sunday on April 4. The area covered is collectively known as “NCR Plus,” and its bubble status means that only authorized persons outside of residence can do essential travel in and out of the area, along with essential travel between the “bubbled” provinces, as mandated by the national IATF.
All of NCR Plus will also follow a uniform evening curfew, running from 10PM every night to 5AM the following day, although it has no effect on travelling workers, public transportation and cargo vehicles. Children under age 18 and elderly over 65 years old, plus those with pre-existing medical conditions and pregnant women must stay at home within the bubble. Unlike a lockdown, not all businesses are closed in the bubble. Dining establishments are encouraged to offer outdoor dining where possible, while maintaining 50% max capacity, max two persons per table, and one-apart diagonal seating.
The timing of the two-week GCQ bubble for NCR Plus was deemed reasonable for being towards the beginning of Holy Week, when most businesses close up anyway. Masses and religious activities however have been prohibited within the bubble. Similarly-affected businesses range from cinemas, to game centers, driving schools, libraries and museums, cultural centers and cockfighting arenas. Private businesses that remain open are also suggested to reduce their on-site worker capacity to 30-50 percent, with work-from home arrangements encouraged as much as possible. Standard health protocols of mask, shield, sanitation and disinfection, and physical distancing remain in place. Essential travellers are also encourage to walk if short distance, or ride bikes.
A bubble environment has been employed last year at Pampanga to enable the PBA to run one conference in a shortened season, similar to the NBA which put their bubble at Walt Disney World. No events are happening in the “NCR Plus” GCQ bubble, but it could mean the difference in controlling the COVID upsurge.
Image courtesy of GMA News