Primer on Enhanced Community Quarantine and Social Distancing in the Age of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19)

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has become a pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One way to combat the spread of the virus is community quarantine and social distancing. The government has issued the general guidelines for general community quarantine and strict social distancing. To assist in the dissemination of information, we have prepared this primer.

Where can we we read the guidelines? 

The guidelines are contained in two undated Memoranda issued by the Executive Secretary, one released on 14 March 2020 (placing the NCR under a community quarantine) and the other released on 16 March 2020 (placing the entire Luzon under Enhanced Community Quarantine), as well as the 18 March 2020 Memoranda. The guidelines may be revised based on the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infections Diseases.

Which type of Community Quarantine is applicable?

Some people call it a lockdown, but the term does not appear in the Memoranda. Instead, the term used is “community quarantine.”  There are two types of community quarantine: (1) General Community Quarantine; and (2) Enhanced Community Quarantine. The 14 March 2020 Memorandum does not specify which type of quarantine is applicable, but the 16 March 2020 Memorandum specifically calls for an Enhanced Community Quarantine. 

What are the characteristics of an Enhanced Community Quarantine?

Under an Enhanced Community Quarantine:

  • (1) A strict home quarantine shall be observed in all households;
  • (2) Movement shall be limited to accessing basic necessities; 
  • (3) Provision for food and essential health services shall be regulated; and 
  • (4) There will be heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures.

A General Community Quarantine, on the other hand, does not involve a strict home quarantine.

What is “strict home quarantine”?

There is no exact definition or characterization of a “strict home quarantine.” At first glance, it gives the impression that individuals cannot go out of their homes. Other provisions of the 16 March 2020 Memorandum, however, allow limited movement to access “basic necessities.”

What are “basic necessities“? There is no list or definition provided in the Memoranda. Scattered in different provisions are the following items which are considered basic necessities or services:

  • Food and water
  • Medicine
  • Health-related concerns (going to a hospital or medical clinic)
  • Withdrawal/transfer of money, as banks and money transfer services are allowed to open

The problem, however, is that the operation of ALL mass transport is SUSPENDED. 

Are private vehicles allowed?

The Memoranda explicitly provides that “land, air and sea travel shall be restricted.” The general rule, therefore, is that the use of private vehicles is not allowed. However, a reading of the entire Memoranda reveals that the following are allowed:

  • Use of private vehicles for basic necessities or services, as discussed above
  • Use of private vehicles for WORK allowed, as enumerated below 

These are the general guidelines contained in the Memoranda. Government representatives, during a press conference, clarified that movement (by foot or vehicle) for basic necessities or services (“essential travel”) is limited to one member of the family. For companies allowed to operate, employers are encouraged to provide shuttle services, provided social distancing is strictly observed.

What are the kinds of WORK allowed?

For GOVERNMENT work, a work from home arrangement shall be implemented in the Executive branch, except the following: 

  • Philipipne National Police (PNP)
  • Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)
  • Philippine Coast Guard (PCG)
  • Health and emergency frontline services
  • Border control
  • Other critical services
  • Heads of mission or their designated foreign mission representatives, including limited foreign mission personnel and staff, may be exempted from the strict home quarantine whenever performing diplomatic functions, subject to observance of skeletal workforce and guidelines issued by the DFA
  • Land, air and sea travel of uniformed personnel for official business, especially those transporting medical supplies, laboratory specimens related to the COVID-19, and other humanitarian assistance, shall be allowed

For the PRIVATE sector, ONLY the following are allowed:

  • Establishments providing basic necessities and such activities related to food and medicine production, i.e., public markets, supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, hospitals, medical clinics, pharmacies and drug stores, food preparation and delivery services, water-refilling stations, manufacturing and processing plants of basic food products and medicines
  • Cargoes within, to and from the entire Luzon shall remain unhampered, subject to the guidelines for the accompanying crew or personnel of transiting cargoes to be issued by the Department of Transportation
  • Banks
  • Money transfer services
  • Power
  • Energy
  • Water 
  • Telecommunications
  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) establishments, with limitations discussed below
  • Export-oriented industries, with limitations discussed below
  • Hotels, with limitations discussed below
  • Media personnel, provided that within seventy-two (72) hours from the issuance of this Memorandum, media personnel intending to travel within the quarantine area shall secure an identification card from the Presidential Communications Operations Office
  • Security personnel of the above-enumerated establishments

In all such open establishments, their respective managements shall ensure the adoption of a strict skeletal workforce to support operations, as well as all strict social distancing measures.

What is “social distancing”?

Social distancing is the strict maintenance of a distance of at least one (1) meter radius between and among individuals. This characterization appears in the 14 March 2020 Memorandum

When is air travel allowed?

Domestic air travel is not allowed to or from any point of Luzon. For international (outbound and inbound), the following are allowed:

All OUTBOUND travel, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), balikbayans, and foreign nationals shall be allowed to leave the Philippines at any time. Existing travel restrictions to FiIipinos shall remain in place. In traveling within Luzon for the purpose of such international travel, proof of international travel itinerary, with departure scheduled within twenty-four (24) hours from leaving residence or accommodation, must be presented. All departing passengers may be accompanied by not more than one (1) person when traveling to any international port.

For INBOUND passengers, there is a distinction between Filipinos and non-Filipinos:

  • For FILIPINO citizens, including their foreign spouse and children, if any, holders of Permanent Resident Visa, and holders of 9(e) Diplomat Visas issued by the Philippine Government, shall be ALLOWED ENTRY, subject to applicable quarantine procedures if coming from countries with existing travel restrictions imposed by the IATF.
  • For other inbound international passengers, they shall be allowed entry ONLY IF they are IN TRANSIT upon effectivity of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, subject to applicable quarantine procedures if coming from countries with existing travel restrictions imposed by the IATF. This means if the flight took off AFTER 00:00 (12 a.m.) of 17 March 2020, they will no longer be allowed entry into Luzon.

What is the rule on classes and other school activities?

Classes and school activities in all levels shall continue to be suspended until 14 April 2020 and shall resume on 15 April 2020. The same directives to the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and such other regulatory agencies, LGUs and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) with respect to the class suspension are reiterated. [See also: DepEd issuance for school activities for the rest of School Year 2019-2020]


Mass gatherings are still PROHIBITED. A “mass gathering” is not defined in the 16 March 2020 Memorandum. On the other hand, the 14 March 2020 Memorandum provides that: “A mass gathering is an event, whether planned or spontaneous, where the number of people attending the event could strain the planning and response resources of the city or municipality where the event will be held.”

 The Memorandum does not specify the number of individuals involved in order for an activity to be characterized as a mass gathering. The following examples of a “mass gathering” are provided:

  • movie screenings 
  • concerts
  • sporting events
  • other entertainment activities
  • community assemblies
  • non-essential work-related gatherings

Religious activities and essential work-related meetings may continue, so long as strict social distancing is maintained during the entirety of the event. 

Are BPOs and export-oriented establishments allowed to operate?

BPOs and export-oriented businesses are allowed to operate during the Enhanced Community Quarantine. However, the following shall be allowed only until end of 20 March 2020:

  • Transfer of necessary equipment to facilitate work from home arrangements  
  • Make arrangements with hotels for basic lodging

Are POGOs allowed to operate?

Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) shall not be allowed to operate. 

Are hotels or similar establishments allowed to operate?

Hotels or similar establishments shall NOT be allowed to operate, except those accommodating:

  • i. Guests who have existing booking accommodations for foreigners as of 17 March 2020
  • ii. Guests who have existing long-term leases
  • iii. Employees from exempted establishments under the provisions of the 16 March 2020 Memorandum, and subsequent modifications and clarifications

Other than these exceptions, no new booking accommodations shall be permitted. In all cases, hotel operations shall be limited to the provision of basic lodging to guests.

What is the area covered by the Enhanced Community Quarantine?

The 16 March 2020 Memonradum covers the entire Luzon, including the National Capital Region (NCR). This does not preclude quarantine declared by Local Government Units (LGUs) in areas outside of Luzon.

What is the duration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon?

The Enhanced Community Quarantine is effective 00:00 (12 a.m.) of 17 March 2020 and expiring on 00:00 (12 a.m.) of 13 April 2020. It may be shortened or extended depending on the circumstances. [Update: ECQ has been extended until 15 May 2020 in high-risk areas.]

How to interpret the provisions of the Memoranda?

While the two Memoranda do not explicitly provide the manner of interpretation, the intent is clear to restrict movement and enforce a strict home quarantine. The government has clarified in a press conference that an activity is prohibited, unless exempted in the guidelines. In other words, in case of doubt, it is not allowed. 

P&L Law

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