Year ender

COVID-19 timeline in Cebu City: The fight continues in 2021

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram - CDN Digital | January 01,2021 - 10:14 AM

TIMELINE: COVID-19 in Cebu City - the fight continues in 2021

In this June 26, 2020 file photo, policemen are stationed at a border control point at the South Coastal Road as Cebu province implements strict border control between Cebu City.


Read first part here: COVID-19 timeline in Cebu City

Majority of the first half of 2020 for Cebu City was spent under lockdowns. The city was still placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), the two strictest forms of community quarantine, until July 31, 2020.

But things started to look brighter when quarantine restrictions were gradually eased. 

Cebu City greeted December with less than 200 active cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and as of December 31, it was monitoring 108 patients still infected with the virus, based on the Department of Health in Central Visayas’ (DOH-7) daily coronavirus bulletin.

However, the entire world, including the Philippine government, is bracing for the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic while everyone is set to greet 2021. 

A mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was recently discovered in the United Kingdom. Later on, more than 15 other countries reported the presence of the new variant, which according to a study, is on average 56 percent more infectious than the original one. 

For Cebu City, the local government decided to heightened existing health protocols and closely monitor passengers coming from outside Cebu island as means to prevent the entry of the mutated virus. 

In this second part of CDN Digital’s special feature, we will recount the circumstances and events leading to the city ‘flattening of the epidemic curve’ up to recent preparations for the possibility of a second wave. 

JULY: ECQ remains, more law enforcers arrived, granular lockdowns 

The return of ECQ in Cebu City lasted for a month. It would be downgraded to MECQ by July 15.

When the Malacañang intervened last June, additional measures were imposed in Cebu City, and this included the deployment of more than 250 police officers from the Special Action Forces (SAF) and those assigned in Western and Eastern Visayas regions.

The augmentation was intended to help local law enforcers here ensure that health protocols are being strictly followed.

The national government also ordered for the military to be out on the streets, patrolling together with barangay tanods (village watchmen), and the police, particularly in areas with the most number of active COVID-19 cases.

It was also in July when the term ‘granular lockdown’ was introduced. This measure was first implemented in villages in the city that have the most number of active COVID-19 cases. 

Read: Granular lockdown eyed in Cebu City barangays with most number of COVID-19 cases

In granular lockdowns, officials would be isolating portions of an area – it could be an entire sitio (sub-village in Englisg), street, building, or barangay – from the rest of the city to contain the spread of the virus. 

Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy chief implementer of Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) in Cebu City, said granular lockdowns are among the ‘innovations’ formulated here that sought a balance between addressing a public health emergency and ensuring the city’s economy remains healthy. 

AUGUST: Downgraded to GCQ, public Masses in churches resume 

A downtrend in the number of new COVID-19 cases logged daily has been noted in Cebu City since it was put back to ECQ. By August 1, the IATF finally allowed the city to transition to a more relaxed GCQ. 

But unlike other areas in the country under GCQ, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella decided to retain the need for quarantine passes (QPass), much to the public’s frustrations. 

Labella justified their actions by pointing out that one of the reasons why Cebu City experienced a surge in mid-June was the huge, and uncontrollable, number of people going out when it shifted from ECQ to GCQ. 

The Qpass would only be suspended for 10 days, from December 15 to December 25, to give way for the conduct of Simbang Gabi and Misa de Gallo (dawn Masses). 

With restrictions eased, Cebuanos were also eager to visit churches once more, after months of lockdown. But public Masses were not immediately allowed to resume, with existing guidelines capping the maximum number of attendees of a religious event’s venue up to 10 percent of its designed capacity. 

Read: Basilica resumes public Masses in ‘new normal’

For church leaders, following such protocol was already like keeping the church off-limits. This prompted them to sit down with local officials on their request to adjust the maximum number to 50 percent of the venue’s capacity.

Eventually, the IATF approved increasing the number of attendees in every public Mass. 

SEPTEMBER: Flattening the curve, MGCQ but QPasses stay

Cebu City continues to enjoy recording fewer daily new cases of COVID-19. Even Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who was tasked by President Rodrigo Duterte to oversee the city’s responses made towards the outbreak, projected that the locality is on track in achieving the most relaxed form of community quarantine, modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

And it did on September 1, much to the delight of Cebuanos, particularly business groups here which expressed concerns when the city returned to ECQ last June. 

The Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), for its part, hoped that MGCQ would prevail as they pointed out that when the city started transitioning to GCQ, a number of establishments have also started to recover. 

The city’s MGCQ status would later extend up to January 31, 2021. 

In addition, DOH-7, during the second week of MGCQ, declared that the city was finally able to flatten the curve by maintaining a constant downtrend in the number of new COVID-19 cases, and improvement in the overall critical care capacity rates of all hospitals here.

Read: DOH-7: Central Visayas flattens COVID-19 curve

Health experts gauge critical care capacity rates to determine if the outbreak levels in a community are about to progress to alarming levels. 

But if there’s one thing that stayed in Cebu City throughout its different phases of quarantine restrictions, it’s the need for residents to present QPasses when going out of their houses. 

Local officials continued to defend their decision in keeping the requirement of QPasses – even if the IATF has allowed areas under MGCQ to do away with QPasses – by saying that this policy helped in controlling the number of people in public places. 

OCTOBER: Early ‘Kalag-Kalag’ Season 

Kalag-Kalag Season this 2020 in Cebu City came earlier than usual due to threats of the pandemic. 

The city government announced in October that they would be ordering all cemeteries, both public and private, to close starting October 29 until November 3 as a preventive measure to avoid rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Read: Cemeteries in Cebu City closed from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3

Labella also issued his executive order (EO), outlining his recent instructions, ahead of that of the IATF. 

But the city has allowed residents to visit the graves of their deceased loved ones before the closure will take effect as long as minimum health standards will be observed. 

NOVEMBER: Fears of another lockdown

It has been five months since Cebu City went back to ECQ, and fears of the possibility of another lockdown remained fresh in the minds of Cebuanos. 

Questions whether the city would face another round of stricter quarantine measures surfaced in November when on the second and third week of this month, officials saw a slight increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

Back in August and September, the city managed to report more recoveries than additional cases of the infection but this trend stopped in mid-November when for straight seven days, DOH-7 recorded double-digits in the number of daily cases. 

This prompted members of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to sound the alarm, and warned the public that another lockdown could be possible if the infections continue to rise. 

The sudden increase of new COVID-19 cases in Cebu City, health experts found out, was driven mostly by people who recently attended gatherings and parties for Halloween last October. 

And it came as a surprise to the general public when the city government decided to impose stricter border controls for travelers from outside Cebu island. This policy, however, would become more relevant by December as the world braces for the mutated variant of SARS-CoV-2. 

DECEMBER: Vaccines, Misa de Gallo, suspension of QPasses, the new variant 

COVID-19 remained a threat a year after it was discovered. By December, however, hopes of reclaiming normalcy were renewed as the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms started rolling out vaccines.

Moreso, in the Philippines, Cebu was chosen as one of the ‘priority areas’ for the government’s inoculation program. 

Read: Cebu City tagged as priority for COVID-19 vaccines

While local officials, including those from DOH-7, are still waiting for the guidelines for the vaccination, the city was preparing for the conduct of Misa de Gallo and Simbang Gabi.

Labella has allowed parish churches, and not chapels, to hold dawn Masses for the Holiday season. With this, the city also suspended the need to present QPasses for 10 days, from December 15 to December 25, to give way for churchgoers. 

Read: Misa de Gallo may be allowed, Labella to consult Church, police first

The first few days of Misa de Gallo, however, were marked with overflowing crowds with little to no regard for social distancing. 

At its peak, the Cebu City Police recorded 36,000 attendees of dawn Masses in all 35 churches.

Meanwhile, the city’s number of active COVID-19 cases has dropped to less than 200 in December, another milestone in terms of sustaining the outbreak within manageable levels. 

But health authorities cautioned members of the public and private sectors not to let their guards down just yet as a mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 was reported in the United Kingdom and was seen to spread in more than 15 other countries.

The new variant, on average, is 56 percent more infectious than the original virus. This prompted both the national and local governments bracing for the possible entry of the new virus. 

For his part, Labella assured the public that they will not be reimposing city-wide lockdowns and that ‘granular lockdowns’ will only be implemented in case of another surge due to the new variant. 

As Cebu City ended the year 2020, the public is advised to continue following health protocols, and expect more stringent protocols against COVID-19 as the fight continues in 2021.


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TAGS: Cebu City, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, Cebu City under GCQ, COVID-19 in Cebu City, timeline

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