President Rodrigo Duterte has extended the Philippines’ enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or “lockdown”, until May 15, primarily in Metro Manila where the highest incidence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is found, as well as in other areas where a high incidence of the virus is prevalent.
The lockdown will remain in Metro Manila, the Southern Tagalog (Calabarzon) and Central Luzon regions, Mindoro island, and the provinces of Pangasinan, Benguet, Catanduanes, and Albay.
The provinces of Benguet, Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Zambales meanwhile will be subject to a recheck by April 30.
The lockdown will also be extended until May 15 in “high risk” areas in Visayas and Mindanao, subject to rechecking. The high risk areas are Antique, Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, and Cebu in the Visayas, and Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, and Davao City in Mindanao.
“We are all at risk but do not increase the odds or chances of getting it (COVID-19),” Duterte said in a televised address, wearing a face mask.
“We’re just waiting for the right time. Tiisin lang muna natin ako nakikiusap sa inyo para lang sa bayan because we are trying to limit the contamination (Please bear with us, for the country, because we are trying to limit the contamination.),” Duterte said.
Other areas will be under general community quarantine starting May 1, which means limiting the “stay home” policy to those in the 0 to 20 age group, and the elderly or those 60 years old and above.
For areas placed under general community quarantine, the following will be observed:
- workers and sectors in category I, II and III may continue to work or operate in phases;
- the general population may go out of their homes only for purposes of accessing basic necessities;
- in any case, those with ages below 21 years old and those 60 years old and above as well as those with ages ranging from 21 years olf but below 60 years old but who reside with co-morbidities or other risk factors shall stay home;
- non-leisure stores in malls and shopping centers may partially open;
- higher education institutions may continue classes to finish the academic year and issue credentials to students in accordance with guidelines as may be issued by the Commission on Higher Education;
- priority and essential construction projects may resume in accordance with guidelines as may be issued by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH);
- public transportation may operate at a reduced capacity in accordace with guidelines as may be issued by the Department of Transportation (DOTr);
- local government units shall enforce curfew at night for non-workers; and
- airports and seaports may operate insofar as the unhampered movement of goods.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases recommended the extension to the President after experts warned that lifting restrictions too soon could spark a second wave of infections.
Since the lockdown started on March 17, over 50 million people in the Philippine island of Luzon have been forced to stay home to contain the spread of COVID-19. The May 15 lifting target is the second extension.
Malacañang earlier said the government considered the capability of health facilities to respond to the pandemic in deciding whether or not to end the Luzon-wide lockdown.
“Importanteng tingnan natin ‘yung mga numero on a geographical basis. At ang tanong nga natin ay sapat ba ang kakayanan ng health sector sa lugar na ‘yun na gamitin lahat ng magkakasakit kung ire-relax o ili-lift ang ECQ (It’s important to look at the figures on a geographical basis. The question that we’re asking is whether the health sector can adjust to whatever decision will be made on the enhanced community quarantine.),” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
According to Roque, a “minimum health standard” for areas under ECQ will be implemented starting April 27.
The Department of Health, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Public Works and Highways will prepare the guidelines by April 25.
The President’s move came after he consulted with government officials, medical experts and former Health secretaries this week regarding possible measures to be implemented after April 30, or more than a month after the Luzon-wide quarantine started.
Duterte imposed last month strict confinement measures in Luzon to contain the spread of the virus, including sweeping restrictions on travel and mass gatherings, and the closure of schools and non-esential businesses.
He asked the people to stay home even as he told the military and police to prepare for a stricter enforcement of quarantine rules.
The President also directed Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua to focus on crafting the Philippine recovery plan.
The Luzon-wide quarantine was originally scheduled to end on April 13 but Duterte extended it until April 30.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Philippines has 6,981 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 462 deaths and 722 recoveries.
Since emerging in Wuhan City in Hubei province, China, the novel coronavirus has infected some 2.6 million people worldwide and killed 185,000 others, according to a running tally from US-based John Hopkins University./Stacy Ang