Metro Manila to be placed on 'lockdown' due to COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 12) — Travel restrictions will be put in place in Metro Manila after health authorities raised the highest COVID-19 alert level, President Rodrigo Duterte announced Thursday.

Over 12 million people living in Metro Manila would not be allowed in and out of the country's economic and political center by land, local air travel and local sea travel from midnight of March 15 until April 14 as the region is placed under community quarantine.

"Ayaw naming gamitin 'yan kasi takot kayo sabihin lockdown. But it's a lockdown," Duterte said.

[Translation: We don't want to use that, to call it a lockdown, because you're afraid. But it's a lockdown.]

In a statement after Duterte’s address, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the current situation does not merit a “total and absolute lockdown.”

Railways traversing Metro Manila — the LRT, MRT and the Philippine National Railways — will continue operations, but the Transportation Department was tasked to issue guidelines to ensure adequate distance between people on the trains to prevent the spread of diseases.

These are among the recommendations by the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved by Duterte during their meeting before his address. All their recommendations will be in place for 30 days, but will be evaluated every seven days.

Duterte said he may issue an executive order formalizing the panel’s recommendations.

Outside of Metro Manila, Duterte agreed with the task force’s recommendation to let local government units down to the barangay-level to determine whether to put their area under quarantine.

Barangays are advised to quarantine once they confirm that at least two people from different households have COVID-19. Municipalities and cities are told to quarantine when at least two people from different barangays test positive. Provinces are also advised to quarantine if at least two people from different municipalities or cities get the disease.

Not martial law

Also among the recommendations is to shut down all of the schools in Metro Manila until April 12, but students are still required to fulfill their academic requirements.

Duterte said he will tap the police and the military to act as truant officers to ensure that students stay at home.

“Then maybe if you are arrogant, dadalhin ka istasyon (you will be brought to the station) for record purposes, that you are disobeying, that you are intransigent and that you are not fulfilling your duty,” he said.

Work in the executive branch is also suspended until April 12, except for a skeletal workforce to ensure continuous delivery of services to the public. The legislative and judicial branches of government are encouraged to also adopt the same policy.

Work in the private sector continues, but the government encourages flexible work arrangements.

There is also a new prohibition on mass gatherings, defined as “a planned or spontaneous event where the number of people attending could strain the planning and response resources of the community hosting the event.”

Duterte mentioned that protests are also included in this ban, and even warned of criminal charges against those who disobey or physically assault law enforcers.

He said that the new restrictions are not akin to martial law and have nothing to do with his power or the powers of the police and the military.

“If you are advised, just obey. Wala namang mawala sa inyo tutal sa inyo ‘yan eh (You will lose nothing.) It’s for your own good. Hindi man ito para sa amin (This is not for us.) Ako, I hate it. But you have to do it because there is a crisis that is engulfing the country right now,” he said.

Five people have died in the country because of the disease. Two have recovered, while 48 are admitted at various hospitals in the country.

Globally, the virus has killed 4,607 and infected 124,519.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which is related to the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, but is not as deadly, with the fatality rate standing at around three percent.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of patients only experience “mild illness” and eventually recover. It added that some 14 percent experience severe illness while five percent were critically ill.

The disease is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze.

To prevent infection, authorities are urging people to practice regular hand washing, cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with those who show respiratory symptoms.

Commonly reported COVID-19 symptoms are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. Those with severe and critical symptoms should call the Health Department at (02) 8-651-7800 local 1149-1150.

The WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, but stressed that this should not cause alarm as it can still be controlled since 90 percent of infections are being reported in only four countries, while outbreaks in China and South Korea are slowing down.