A year after the whole country was first put into lockdown, COVID-19 cases are still rising, with a record-high single-day tally of 7,999 cases last 20 March 2021, Saturday, immediately right after 7,103 cases were recorded the previous day. In response to the surge in cases, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) announced that the Greater Manila Area would be put under a “general community quarantine (GCQ) bubble” starting today 22 March 2021, Monday, until 4 April 2021, Sunday. This Greater Manila Area (or NCR Plus, as the Internet is calling it right now) refers to the National Capital Region (NCR), Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal. In case you’re still confused about the new protocols and restrictions, here are the answers to your most important questions about the GCQ bubble.
Is the GCQ bubble the same as a lockdown?
According to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, this is not a lockdown, but rather, there would only be added strict restrictions in the areas included in the bubble.
Establishments are still allowed to operate, albeit at lower capacity and manpower. Public transportation may also continue operations, provided standard protocols are followed.
So what does a GCQ bubble mean?
Residents in other countries like New Zealand and the United States have been using the concept of “quarantine bubbles” months ago. In New Zealand, a quarantine bubble is a term used to describe the idea of socializing and moving about not just according to yourself as an individual, but according to a self-contained circle of people with whom you have close physical contact. New Zealand’s bubble used to be restricted to an individual’s household, and then expanded to other households and communities when quarantine restrictions eased. The Philippines is doing something similar to that, but on a much larger scale.
The GCQ bubble is essentially a closed-off area where a group of people who are already inside can freely move around but cannot exit from. Similarly, people outside the bubble are not allowed to enter the bubble. This allows for minimal interaction between people inside and outside the bubble, minimizing the risk of infection.
In this case, residents of the Greater Manila Area are placed inside a bubble where they can move about freely within their own province. But entry and exit within that bubble aren’t allowed other than a few exceptions.
Can all residents move around the GCQ bubble?
Only essential travel is permitted to and from NCR and the four nearby provinces.
Most residents living in the areas inside the bubble are allowed to move freely within their own provinces. In fact, public transport has not been restricted.
However, if your age is below 18 or above 65, if you have comorbidities, or if you’re pregnant, you are not allowed to go out and must remain inside your residence.
Residents inside the bubble may go out to restock essential goods or accomplish work-related tasks. Indoor dining in restaurants is no longer permitted, but outdoor dining can operate at 50% capacity. Of course, you could always get takeout or delivery.
Mass gatherings are prohibited, including those for religious activities. Weddings, baptisms, and funeral services have been limited to 10 persons. This also means establishments that draw crowds (e.g. cinemas) may not operate.
Is anyone allowed to go in and out of the bubble?
While the bubble is meant to restrict travel in and out of the aforementioned areas, the IATF allows some exceptions. Authorized persons outside their residences (APORs) may go in and out of the bubble. This includes:
- essential workers
- health and emergency frontline service personnel
- government officials and government frontline personnel
- duly-authorized humanitarian assistance actors
- persons traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons
- persons going to the airport for travel abroad
- returning overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)
As long as these persons can present a valid identification card, they would be allowed to enter and exit the bubble as needed.
Are there documents required when moving around?
Unlike previous variations of the community quarantine where the government required documents like swab test results or itineraries to be presented, the IATF did not explicitly mention any required documents other than a valid ID card to move around the GCQ bubble.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) implemented stricter checkpoints starting the morning of 22 March 2021. Checkpoints have been established between the boundaries between areas inside and outside the bubble, as well as between areas within the bubble. GMA News reports that there are checkpoints at the boundary of Calumpit, Bulacan; Apalit, Pampanga; Quezon City; and San Mateo, Rizal.
Police are asking motorists where they’re going and why they’re traveling, so just in case, you should make sure to always bring your company ID card and any valid government-issued ID cards to prove that you can move around within or to and from the GCQ bubble.
Is there a curfew?
Even before the implementation of the GCQ bubble, the NCR mayors have already implemented uniform curfew hours across the region starting last 15 March 2021, Monday. This curfew mandated that NCR residents must not be outside their residences from 10 PM to 5 AM. With the implementation of the GCQ bubble, this curfew now extends to the neighboring provinces.
What would happen to flights and scheduled trips?
The IATF prohibits any nonessential travel during the GCQ bubble, which means all your weekend plans need to be rescheduled immediately. Airlines such as Cebu Pacific allow passengers to rebook with no additional fee, convert to travel points, or refund their ticket costs in full.
But for passengers who are traveling for essential purposes, Cebu Pacific and other airlines would proceed with their flight plans as scheduled so far.
What will happen to the GCQ bubble after April 4?
Depending on how many COVID-19 cases would be logged in the next two weeks, the GCQ bubble may or may not be eased. We’re all hoping we can bring down the number of active cases closer to zero soon.
What do you think of the GCQ bubble? Tell us your thoughts below!