Luzon-wide lockdown extended until April 30 to stop COVID-19 spread

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 7) — The enhanced community quarantine over Luzon will be extended until April 30, a Cabinet official said on Tuesday.

Karlo Nograles, the spokesperson of the COVID-19 task force, said President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force to extend the quarantine to 11:59 pm of April 30 to further contain the spread of coronavirus. Under the earlier order, the present quarantine is scheduled to end at 12:00 a.m. of April 13.

"Pagkatapos ng kanyang announcement ay vinerify po namin ulit at ang sagot po ay, ang enhanced community quarantine is hereby extended until 11:59 pm of April 30," he said in a virtual media briefing.

Luzon is home to over 57 million people and where Metro Manila, the country’s political and economic center, is located.

The movement of people will continue to be severely restricted under the extended quarantine, with most only allowed to leave their homes for essential trips such as to buy food or medicine.

Nograles said there is no need yet to expand the enhanced community quarantine to Visayas and Mindanao. But he said medical experts are continuously monitoring the cases in the other regions.

There are 3,660 cases of COVID-19 in the Philippines, with majority of the cases recorded in Luzon.

Need for extended lockdown

Nograles said the quarantine cannot be lifted this early because, based on three different models, cases spiked the moment quarantine orders were lifted.

He said government needs more time to ensure the Philippines can flatten the curve and hopefully not yet reach the peak number of confirmed cases.

The Health Department said it is still too early to say when COVID-19 cases in the country would peak as it needs to give more time for new testing laboratories' operations to stabilize.

Nograles explained the two-week extension will give the government more time to ramp up the country's COVID-19 testing capacity and test result turnaround in laboratories nationwide.

With only 10 certified laboratories nationwide as of Tuesday, only around 2,000 tests can be done daily. Nograles is confident that by gradually certifying more subnational laboratories, 13,000 to 20,000 COVID-19 tests can be done daily by April 27.

He said the government is also targeting to hasten the release of test results to 24 hours so patients can be immediately isolated to prevent the spread of the disease. The isolation of patients under investigation will also be increased with the construction of more quarantine facilities.

By putting these changes in place, he said, the government hopes the Philippines can buy time and reach the peak number of cases only after scientists finally create a vaccine for the new coronavirus.

"Iyun po ang game plan. We need to push the peak kasi hindi pa natin nakikita ang peak. Kung lahat po ito ay magagawa natin, sinasabi ng mga eksperto maaari nating ma-push pa lalo ang peak ng COVID-19 dito sa Pilipinas as far as 2021. Sana by that time makapaghanap na ng vaccine ang mundo," he said.

[Translation: This is our game plan while we haven't seen the peak yet. If we can make these changes, experts said we can push the peak of COVID-19 in the country to 2021. Hopefully, by then, there is already a vaccine.]

The national government has allocated about P600 billion for COVID-19 response fund. Portions of are being distributed to assist sectors most affected by the health crisis, such as indigent families; micro, small, and medium enterprises; workers; conditional cash transfer beneficiaries of the DSWD; and public utility vehicle drivers.