Quezon City declares state of calamity amid COVID-19 threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 13) — A state of calamity was declared in Quezon City on Friday as the most populous city in Metro Manila records six cases of coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

Mayor Joy Belmonte said the city council passed the resolution in order to authorize the usage of the quick response fund to procuring necessary supplies to fight the highly-contagious viral disease. She added that this is the first time in years for the local government to trigger this response, which would allow barangay officials to do emergency procurement to fast-track intervention and contain COVID-19. 

Mass gatherings are also prohibited in the city with the declaration, which will be converted into an executive order, Belmonte said.

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Tinanggal ng mga punong barangay naming ang lahat ng mga basketball ring sa covered courts, para siguradong hindi sila mag-basketball at kung ano pang mga hindi nila ginagawa during class hours [Barangay captains removed all rings in our basketball courts so that students won’t flock there during class hours],” the mayor said during a press briefing on Friday afternoon. She also reminded parents not to bring their children out as much as possible, especially if there is an adult who can look after them at home.

Students will also be sent home if they are caught strolling the mall by themselves.

Police will be patrolling the city to disperse crowds that will gather, in observance of the “social distancing” recommended by the Department of Health to limit person-to-person contact and transmission.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday approved placing the entire Metro Manila region under community quarantine, starting March 15.

In the recommendations made by the by the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), it stated that the quick response fund can only be tapped upon the declaration of a state of calamity.

City hall employees have also been given the option to go on a four-day workweek, but offices would still be open from Monday to Friday. The pay structure even for contractual workers would not be reduced as long as each employee meets the number of hours prescribed per week, the mayor added.

Hotels eyed as quarantine centers

Belmonte said that the three locally-run hospitals in Quezon City are nearly full as they handle suspected COVID-19 cases. She said the local government has a contingency plan in case the number of suspected or confirmed cases shoot up.

“We are trying to work with hotels as alternative facilities for persons under investigation,” the mayor said, noting that they are close to striking a deal with one property which would double as isolation rooms for patients.

She said the city would be able to rent an entire building as hotels are experiencing lean season, with Filipinos and tourists hesitant to go out for fear of getting infected.

No localized quarantine

The mayor said she was still unsure if she needs to impose a quarantine just for Quezon City, saying they have a lot of residents working outside the city, as well as residents from other areas who work here. She added that more cases of COVID-19 would be required to “justify” a localized quarantine, which would restrict the travel of about 3 million residents.

“What the government wants to do is to contain the virus within Metro Manila. We are protecting the rest of the country,” she said.

Belmonte added that checkpoints will be set up in parts of the city which serve as boundaries to towns and provinces outside Metro Manila. Policemen or barangay tanods will man the area, equipped with temperature scanners prior to entering Quezon City.

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She confirmed, however, that a coronavirus patient confined at the Philippine Heart Centeralong East Avenue was among the deaths reported by authorities on Thursday night. She added that one of the doctors in the hospital asked to be tested for the disease.

The IATF-EID resolution says a city-wide quarantine is "advised" when there are at least two positive coronavirus cases belonging to different barangays in the same city.

Mayor Belmonte says it is "unreasonable" to impose a lockdown on the largest city in Metro Manila.