President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday placed the entire island of Luzon on lockdown until April 12 as the number of COVID-19 to case prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
The announcement came after the President met with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, who recommended an “enhanced community quarantine” that includes strict home quarantine in all households, a suspension of public transportation, the regulation of food and essential health services, and the heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce the quarantine.
In a televised address Monday night, Duterte said people would only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food and medicine from stores that would remain open. But he said, “work in [the] public and private sector will be limited to a work-at-home arrangement.”
“Everyone will stay home, leaving their houses only to buy food, medicine and other things necessary for survival,” Duterte said.
He urged all businesses in Luzon to close if the outbreak worsens and appealed to private companies to release the 13th-month pay to their workers who would be affected by the lockdown.
The President said the enhanced community quarantine is not martial law and called on people not to be afraid but to obey the law.
He directed the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Health to find out how to best compensate health workers and other frontline workers.
In a press conference after the President’s speech, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles detailed the guidelines for the Luzon lockdown. They include:
• Classes and all school levels will continue to be suspended until April 14
• Mass gatherings shall be prohibited.
• A strict home quarantine will be observed in all households. Movements will be limited to obtaining basic necessities. Provision of food and essential health services will be regulated.
• The executive branch will implement a work-from-home arrangement except the Philippine National Police, Armed Force of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard, and health and emergency frontline services, border control and other critical services.
• Only private establishments providing basic necessities such as public markets, supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores, hospitals, pharmacies and drugstores, food preparation and delivery services, water-refilling stations, manufacturing and processing plants of basic food products and medicines, banks, money transfer services, power, energy, water and telecommunications supplies and facilities, will be open.
• Business process outsourcing establishments and export-oriented industries will remain operational, subject to the condition that strict social distancing measures are observed.
• Media personnel will be allowed to travel within the quarantine area, provided they obtain an ID from the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
• Mass public transport facilities will be suspended.
• Land, air and sea travel will be restricted. Outbound passengers intending to depart the Philippines from any of the international airports in Luzon will be allowed to travel for a period of 72 hours from the effectivity of the enhanced community quarantine. Inbound international passengers, in transit upon effectivity of the enhanced community quarantine, will be allowed entry, subject to applicable quarantine procedures if coming from countries with existing travel restrictions imposed by the IATF.
• The movement of cargoes within, to and from the entire Luzon will be unhampered.
• Land, air and sea travel of uniformed personnel for official business, especially those transporting medical supplies, laboratory specimens related to the COVID-19, and other humanitarian assistance, will be allowed.
The lockdown came two days after Metro Manila was put under a “community quarantine” that restricted people from entering and leaving the National Capital Region.
Duterte had also declared a state of public health emergency throughout the country due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has recommended to President a “total lockdown” in Metro Manila to prevent the number of infected persons from rising.
“Secretary Año recommended the total lockdown because this is a matter of national survival. We have to be resigned to that fact. This is a matter of life and death. The only way to stop this is for us to help ourselves,” Panelo said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III urged the public to heed President Duterte’s directive for a lockdown.
“We follow,” said Sotto as he also announced the suspension of work in the Senate.
“Senate employees will no longer go to work in the meantime. Members of the Senate Office of the Sergeant-at-arms and security guards will remain in a skeletal number only.”
He also said there is no need for the continuation of work even through telecommuting.
“What for? What are we going to pass that is needed? “ he asked. He noted that the budget is complete.
“Late filing of taxes can be waived. Curfew can be imposed by LGUs. What laws are needed?” he said.
Sotto also said the executive department would not need a supplemental budget because it has enough funds to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to disseminate clear and coherent information that could effectively guide the public throughout the duration of the lockdown.
Towards the end of this period, she said the guidelines should be clear on the de-escalation of quarantine and the eventual lifting of the public health emergency.
The opposition senator said respect and protection of the rights of Filipinos should never be compromised.
“All directives of the government should still operate within the framework of public health emergencies, as described under Republic Act 11332,” she said.
She also urged the national and local governments to ensure that safety nets to immediately provide proper social protection and assistance to the public be cast: cash assistance and loans in all forms to those who will lose livelihood and income; delivery of goods and services especially to the most vulnerable; reliable and uninterrupted service delivery of basic utilities such as water, electricity, and the internet; and heightened visibility and capacity for health workers.
She also said the government should give time for reasonable movement so that households can obtain essential goods for their families.
Vehicles entering Metro Manila were stuck in kilometer-long queues Monday at checkpoints enforcing a quarantine aimed at curbing the nation’s rising coronavirus cases.
Despite a halt on domestic travel to and from the capital, shuttered malls and curfews, workers as well as provisions were still being allowed in through police and military checkpoints.
Metro Manila’s population of some 12 million swells daily with an army of laborers who commute to work on packed buses from its relatively cheaper suburbs.
“I am fine with it because it is for the safety of everyone,” said 47-year-old truck driver Pablito Elipien, who is used to the capital’s notorious gridlock.
Though the Philippines has detected a fraction of the infections seen in hot spots such as China and Italy, its confirmed cases have jumped to 140, with 12 deaths.
Duterte ordered the capital sealed off to domestic travel from Sunday, and by Monday the city’s malls -- centers of life in the country -- were opting to shut down.
Local leaders were also to begin imposing night-time curfews in some areas to encourage people to stay home, and “large” masses have been called off in the Catholic majority nation’s capital.
For the workers stuck in the checkpoint queues, delay and discomfortare facts of life for their commutes into the city, which take hours on a normal day.
“It’s (checkpoints) not really an inconvenience as long as you have the necessary documents,” said Virgilio Aniceto, 51, a construction worker.
The Metro Manila Development Autority (MMDA) said trucks carrying medical supplies and food items are exempted from the truck ban along EDSA and other roads in Metro Manila.
MMDA chairman Danilo Lim said the exemption would be in effect until further notice.
At the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), send-off parties and nonessential persons at the terminals have been prohibited to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Manila International Airport Authority general manager Eddie Monreal appealed to the public to bear with more restrictions that the authorities may impose in the coming days.
The Bureau of Immigration (BI), meanwhile, branded as “fake news” reports on social media saying that hundreds of Chinese nationals were being allowed to enter the Philippines.
One post questioned the arrival of a Xiamen Air flight that arrived March 10. The BI said, however, that the flight carried only four passengers: a Filipino citizen and three permanent residents, who are among the classes exempted from the travel ban.
“We are not banning flights, but are rather restricting people coming from areas of concern,” said Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente. He said some flights to and from China, Hong Kong, Macau, and South Korea still continue to operate as they may carry exempted classes that may fly in and out of the country.
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