SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) will be allowing more business operations in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ) but will retain border controls and restrictions on non-essential activities as it joins neighboring communities in implementing modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until the end of this month.
SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said the Subic agency will abide by the May 15, 2020 resolution of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) which placed transitioning high-risk areas under MECQ from May 16 to May 31.
“This shift to MECQ will definitely not involve any major relaxation of our existing quarantine rules. We still have to wear mask, do disinfection, practice social distancing and observe curfew hours,” Eisma stressed. “The only significant difference is that we’d be allowing more business operations so that the local economy may start its rebound,” she added.
According to the IATF’s Resolution No. 37, the MECQ areas included the provinces of Bataan, Zambales, Pampanga, Bulacan, and Nueva Ecija, as well as Angeles City. These places were previously classified as moderate-risk areas and qualified for general community quarantine (GCQ).
However, Bataan, Zambales and Bulacan had filed for extension of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), while Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Angeles City filed for modified ECQ.
Eisma said the SBMA had similarly appealed to the IATF-EID as early as Apr. 28 to extend ECQ status over the Subic Bay Freeport due to the lack of adequate health facilities needed to contain a possible surge in COVID-19 cases in the greater Subic Bay area.
“Despite having a daytime population of around 155,000 people, the SBFZ has only one functioning hospital with only 8 ICU beds and 13 hospital rooms,” Eisma pointed out.
She also stressed that while the SBMA has put up Community Isolation Units composed of 32 beds and 45 rooms, the same are not yet fully operational. Moreover, only a small portion of the local population has been tested for COVID-19 infection, Eisma added.
The SBMA chief said that pending a separate quarantine classification by the IATF for the Subic Bay Freeport, the SBMA will adopt the MECQ status placed over Bataan and Zambales, since 65.25% of the total land area of the Freeport is located in Bataan and 24.48% is located in Zambales.
“As of now, the SBMA has started issuing guidelines and protocols to various Freeport stakeholders so that we can effectively transition from ECQ to MECQ,” Eisma added.
The Subic Bay Freeport Zone had so far remained free of COVID-19 infection, but the SBMA has prepared care and isolation facilities open to residents of nearby communities in case of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Eisma has also urged neighboring local government units to join a mass testing program to be implemented jointly by the Philippine Red Cross and the SBMA to detect COVID-19 infections in the locality.
The adjoining province of Bataan and Zambales have so far reported a total of 22 and 119 confirmed COVID-19 cases, respectively, while nearby Olongapo City, which has opted to remain under GCQ, has tallied 12 positive cases as of May 15.