Metro Manila quarantined for 30 days as alarm heightens over COVID-19
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - March 12, 2020 - 9:12pm
Questions on how exactly the metro quarantine will look like arose following the government's raising of alert over COVID-19. These are answered here.

 

MANILA, Philippines (Update 6, March 13 at 12:14 a.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte raised Code Red Sublevel 2 over the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Thursday night, restricting access to Metro Manila as a form of quarantine for 30 days starting March 15.

The heightened alert came with a string of measures aiming to prevent further spread of the infection, which has claimed the lives of five people and afflicted 47 others in the Philippines so far. Most of the cases are in the capital region.

The limited lockdown significantly limits travel in and out of Metro Manila until April 14, with people and transport flows subject to case-to-case assessment.

"We do not want to use that (term). But it is a lockdown," Duterte said in a televised announcement.

During the quarantine period, residents will be generally barred from leaving the Philippine capital of connected cities, home to more than nearly 13 million people.

Metro Manila also hosts 3 million more workers who come from nearby provinces during the day. They will still be permitted to enter as long as they can present proof of their employment within the metro, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in a dzMM interview following Duterte's announcement.

The quarantine, Año said, will be facilitated by checkpoints that will be placed along Metro Manila's boundaries. Whether authorities have the capability to screen millions daily during the period remains to be seen.

Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo also told the radio that the quarantine does not cover goods entering and leaving the capital.

An expanded travel ban will similarly bar the entry of foreigners through land, air or sea. Only Filipino citizens and holders of permanent resident visas and Philippine diplomatic visas will be allowed entry.

Mass transportation within Metro Manila like the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit will continue, although the Department of Transportation must make sure that social distancing guidelines are followed.

"Nandiyan na 'yan, it's a serious one. It is true... huwag ninyong maliitin. Do not minimize it but do not kill yourself with worry because government is doing everything possible to make it controllable," Duterte said in his address.

He added that he will likely issue an executive order based on a resolution that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases passed earlier in the day.

Classes across the metro will also be suspended until April 12, 2020, the president said, although he said students should continue studying even if formal classes are no longer held.

With the raising of Code Red to the highest level, the president also announced the following measures:

  • The banning of planned or spontaneous mass gatherings.
  • Work in the executive department shall be suspended during this period without prejudice to the formation of skeletal workforces 
  • The Department of Labor and Employment's "encouragement" of "flexible work arrangements" in the private sector 
  • The Department of Transportation's issuance of guidelines to ensure social distancing in public transportation, which is due to stay open and operational 

Implementation details of such measures were not immediately made clear as government agencies are expected to release guidelines by Friday.

PNP's role

In his address originally set for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday but started past 8:30 p.m., Duterte threatened local officials and anyone who will refuse to cooperate with jail time.

"Avoid trouble with the law, avoid trouble with anybody, just in the meantime, better just stay home and study. If things will deteriorate, the police and the military will maintain peace and order," he said.

He was quick to say that the measures are tantamount to declaring martial law, but he tasked village chiefs to be the extension of security personnel in implementing the raft of measures.

"I don’t have enough military and police forces to cover every inch of the country. What I have, what I can use is the barangay captain. It falls upon your shoulders to exactly do what this regulation wants to happen," he said.

Duterte earlier this week signed a proclamation placing the Philippines under a state of a public health emergency. 

This enjoins all government agencies, local government units to render all assistance needed while citizens and tourists are urged to "act within the bounds of law and comply with lawful directives." 

Under the proclamation, the Department of Health was handed the authority to ask the national police to provide assistance in combating the spread of the virus. 

Asked by Philstar.com if the role of the national police under the public health emergency would include enforcing quarantines and assisting with contact tracing measures, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a text message said that "both may be done with them if warranted." 

Coalition for People's Right to Health co-convenor Josh San Pedro also told Philstar.com in an online exchange that the PNP's inclusion in the proclamation "may reflect the lack of manpower by the DOH to conduct contact tracing and quarantine." 

Thankful for potential help from China

In the same briefing, Duterte said that China, which has had the most COVID-19 cases so far, has offered to help the Philippines manage the outbreak.

"You know, President Xi Jinping...wrote me a letter and said that he is willing to help. All we have to do is to ask," he said.

"He has said that we have managed the crisis very well in this country and he is very much willing to help kung kailangan. So to the Chinese government, to the people, especially to president Xi Jinping, thank you for the consoling words. And maybe I hope it would not reach to that point, but maybe we will need your help. Salamat po."

--

If you believe you have come into possible contact with infected patients, you may be directed to the proper office of the Department of Health for advice through the following lines: (632) 8651-7800 local 1149-1150 or (632) 165-364.

You may also opt to call the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine at (02) 8807-2631/ 8807-2632/ 8807-2637.
 

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