Code Red Sublevel 2: Main measures taken to combat COVID-19 and their implications

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Code Red Sublevel 2: Main measures taken to combat COVID-19 and their implications
A government worker disinfects a high school, amid concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, in Manila on March 9, 2020.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday announced a halt on domestic travel to and from Manila, a ban on mass gatherings and a month-long closure of schools in an unprecedented move to contain the deadly new coronavirus.

This comes after the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases declared the highest Code Red Sublevel 2 because of sustained community transmission.

The Philippines has so far reported 52 infections, which include five deaths. Four of the five virus-related deaths in the country were reported this week.

Here are the main measures being taken in the country after Code Red Sublevel 2 was raised and their implications.

Metro Manila quarantine

Although the Philippines has detected a fraction of cases seen in coronavirus hotspots China and Italy, the government placed Metro Manila’s nearly 13 million people under quarantine.

“We do not want to use that term. But it is a lockdown,” Duterte said in a nationally televised announcement.

“There is no struggle of power here.... It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” he said.

Mass transportation within Metro Manila such as the Light Transit systems, the Metro Rail Transit and the Philippine National Railways will continue their operations, although the transportation department must ensure that social distancing guidelines are followed.

The community quarantine will restrict land, air and sea travel to and from Metro Manila from March 15 to April 14. Many expressed concern that the lockdown would impact the millions of workers who commute into the capital region daily.

“This lockdown will only bring death and misery to millions of poor and struggling Filipinos who will be prevented from pursuing their livelihood,” labor group Migrante International said.  

But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in an interview on radio dzMM that workers from nearby provinces will still be permitted to enter as long as they can present proof of their employment within the metro as he urged companies to adopt work from home schemes.

He also told the radio that patients needing medical treatment in the capital region will have to present medical certificates to be allowed entry.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the delivery of goods to and from Metro Manila from the provinces and vice versa will continue.

“Residents of NCR should not worry about supply of food, produce in groceries and retailers,” he said as he urged the public not to hoard food and other supplies.

The Health department asked the public to send queries about the community quarantine, saying “we’ll make sure to take all of them into consideration.”

The inter-agency panel is set to meet on Friday to clarify protocols for the month-long community quarantine.

Month-long school closure

Schools across the capital region will be closed until April 12. But Duterte reminded students to fulfil their educational requirements even if formal classes are no longer held.

Even before the extension of school closure was announced, educational institutions in the country shifted to holding online classes.

In its latest order, the Department of Education said schools have the discretion to select the day of this year’s end-of-school year rites within April 13 to 17.

Should the growing health crisis prevent the holding of this year’s rites within the said week, the schools, in consultation with the Parents-Teachers Association leadership, may choose to reschedule or forgo the conduct of the rites.

Earlier the DILG said that students seen in crowded, public places during the period of class suspension will be sent home. The Philippine National Police and barangay officials will implement the order.

“If you are seen outside, loitering, not doing anything, just shouting, the police and military will go to you. You will be asked if you have a problem. If you say you don’t, we are just here outside, then, maybe, if you are arrogant, you will be brought to the station for record purposes,” Duterte said.

“Avoid trouble with the law, with anybody. Just, in the meantime, follow. Better just stay home and study,” Duterte added.

Strict travel restrictions

With the alert hoisted to the highest level, Duterte expanded the travel ban that previously covered only mainland China and North Gyeongsang province in South Korea.

Duterte said the renewed ban will prevent those coming from countries with localized transmission except Filipino citizens and their dependents as well as those with permanent residence visas and Philippine diplomatic visas.

But in a press briefing Friday, Nograles said “strict quarantine restrictions” will be imposed on foreign nationals from countries with localized transmissions. He added details for this policy will be fleshed out in the IATF meeting.

“If you’re a Filipino citizen and you’re coming from abroad, you will be allowed to come home subject to strict quarantine guidelines,” the Cabinet secretary also said.  

Gatherings banned

Planned or spontaneous mass gatherings are also strictly prohibited during the month-long quarantine. These include concerts, large seminars and conventions, sporting events and social gatherings.

Nograles said the inter-agency panel will discuss during its meeting about masses, worship services and religious gatherings.

The Archdiocese of Manila on Friday announced it is temporarily canceling public celebration of the Holy Mass and public activities from March 14 to March 20.

“I recognize that this may impact many faithful and priests but let us do this with the spirit of sacrifice for the good of all,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of Manila, said.

The spread of the virus in the Philippines also affected rituals for the Holy Week. San Fernando Mayor Edwin Santiago canceled crucifixion re-enactments, which draw thousands of tourists.

“We know this is a big adjustment for Metro Manila residents but we ask everyone to cooperate because the consequences of allowing these gatherings in this crucial time will be more painful in the long run,” Nograles said.

Cases globally now stand at more than 125,000 and 4,600 deaths, most of which have been in China. — with report from Agence France-Presse

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