Restaurants and food business owners lamented the government’s abrupt retraction of Metro Manila’s shift to a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ), supposedly slated for today, Sept. 8, Wednesday.
In a Facebook post, restaurant owner Inchang Mendoza detailed how she and her employees prepared for the much-awaited reopening of her restaurant in Manila, following Malacañang's announcement on Sept. 6, Monday, that Metro Manila would be shifting to GCQ from Sept. 8 to 30 after almost a month of being under stricter community quarantine classifications due to rising COVID-19 cases brought by highly infectious Delta variant.
A granular lockdown system was also set to be implemented in the region, whose guidelines were still being finalized by the technical team at the time, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a press briefing on Sept. 6.
However, on the early evening of Sept. 7, Tuesday—just as several restaurants had done most of their prepping for their supposed back-to-business operations the next day—Roque wrote in a Facebook post that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) deferred the pilot implementation of GCQ with granular lockdown system, which means Metro Manila will remain under MECQ until Sept. 15.
As the MECQ classification remains, indoor and al fresco dining services are still prohibited.
In the now deleted Facebook post, Mendoza said she and her employees had prepared for the reopening of her samgyeopsal restaurant in Santa Cruz, Manila; they even had a general cleaning and meeting. She also said they bought hundreds of kilos of meat and poultry for their inventory, whose photo she included in the post.
“Dear government, maawa naman kayo sa mga taong sobrang naaapektuhan na nagta-trabaho ng maayos,” Mendoza lamented. “Hindi kayang sumurvive ng small business owner ang ganyang eksena ng gobyerno! Bigyan niyo kami ng maayos na plano!”
Howard Co, owner and director of several restaurants in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, pointed out that there is a lot more to just reopening and closing a restaurant so announcing a quarantine classification without clear guidelines made it complicated for restaurant owners.
“It seems they (government) didn’t really think about it or consult the industries,” Co told PhilSTAR Life. “I just don’t think they understand that you can’t just flip on a switch to start business. For restaurants, a lot of it is front-loading the inventory and scheduling.”
The food and beverage industry has been among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic. These establishments, when allowed to operate in the more relaxed community quarantine classification, were limited in their seating capacity, reduced manpower, and shortened operation hours due to curfews implemented in every city.
In a statement, Restaurant Owners of the Philippines (Resto PH) group president Eric Teng expressed disappointment and sadness for the state of the country’s F&B industry, which he said used to employ some 2.2 million workers.
“We feel we are being discarded and discriminated against and we feel helpless about our situation,” Teng said.
He added, “We have always supported government’s call for quarantine restrictions in the interest of public safety. But lockdowns cannot be indefinite and arbitrary, without the affected people being consulted and supported.”
“We appeal to government to give us a runway to prepare to reopen or close again, and know that abrupt directives are harmful in itself,” noted Teng, who also called for the government to allow the vaccinated population “more freedom to work and consume to keep the economy going even uder GCQ.”
Teng also urges the government to provide business relief package to industries and employees that are being affected by the pandemic, including restaurants, salons, spas and gyms.
This is not the first time that the government has abruptly announced community quarantine restriction, which gives businesses only a tiny wiggle room to adjust and prepare for reopening or closing their establishments.
On the morning of July 30, NCR Plus was been placed under GCQ with “heightened and additional restrictions” until Aug. 5 (which eventually extended up to more than a month as ECQ and MECQ were implemented after). Restaurant establishments only had less than a day to prepare to shift their operations from dine-in to only delivery and take-out options.
Meanwhile, Manila permits chief Levi Facundo said in a statement via the Manila Public Information Office that the national government should “think thrice” before sending out an official announcement regarding quarantine classifications to avoid confusion.
He said his staff had to drop other duties to prepare for the supposed reopening of essential businesses on Sept. 8, Wednesday.
“I just hate the fact that a lot of time was wasted. The most expensive investment we put in is time. We cannot bring it back anymore,” he noted.
“Examine before proposing. See if the plan is bullet proof. Plan ahead,” Facundo said. “It’s not like all these happened only last night. It’s been 16 months!”
Metro Manila is currently under MECQ until Sept. 15 with a possible shift to GCQ with Alert Level System once the new system is ready for implementation, according to Malacañang.
Thumbnail photo (lockdown) by Ernie Peñaredondo/The Philippine STAR