Duterte extends Luzon lockdown until April 30

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte extended the "enhanced community quarantine" (ECQ) or lockdown for the entire Luzon until April 30, from the original April 12.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles announced this in a Laging Handa briefing on Tuesday, April 7, after Duterte said in a late-night speech on Monday, April 6, that he was "inclined" to extend the lockdown.

"Iyong ECQ is up to April 30, 11:59 pm. Ito ang rekomendasyon ng IATF (inter-agency task force) na tinanggap ni Pangulong Duterte at inannounce na niya kagabi. Matapos ang kanyang announcement, vinerify namin – ang enhanced community quarantine is extended until 11:59 pm of April 30," Nograles said.

(The ECQ is up to April 30, 11:59 pm. This was the recommendation of the IATF which President Duterte announced last night. After his announcement, we verified it – the enhanced community quarantine is extended until 11:59 pm of April 30.)

The announcement comes less than a week before the lockdown for the Philippines' largest island group was set to end on Easter Sunday, April 12.

The lockdown has been in place since March 17 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

How is the outbreak in the country? The number of coronavirus cases in the country has surged in the past 3 weeks. From 187 cases on March 17, the start of the lockdown, there are now 3,660 cases as of April 6.

Health officials described the rise in cases as "artificial," attributing it to the increased number of tests being done.

Yet without mass testing and the Philippines' testing capacity hampered by backlogs, experts have warned that current data do not show an accurate and timely picture of the virus' spread in the country. The backlogs, former health secretary Manuel Dayrit said, mean current data released are about 7 to 10 days late.

Protocols on testing to prioritize those with more severe symptoms as well as high-risk cases have also raised fears the virus could be spreading undetected in communities.

Up until Duterte's announcement was made, health experts had said it was still too early to tell if strict quarantine measures have been effective in stopping the virus from spreading.

For this reason, Nograles said the government needs until mid-April to study the effects of the lockdown on the coronavirus outbreak.

Health experts had projected cases could peak by mid-April, the original end date of the Luzon lockdown. In such a scenario, they warned that lockdown restrictions, if lifted too early, could lead to a resurgence of cases which could cripple the Philippines' already weak health care system.

Extended lockdown measures echo those taken by other countries such as the United States, Malaysia, and Italy. Just recently, Singapore announced it would close most workplaces and shift to online classes as part of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus cases.

What happens now? Under the extended lockdown, strict quarantine for all 57 million residents of Luzon will remain.

Land, sea, and air travel restrictions will continue. The movement of people will be regulated and remain limited to only procuring essential goods and reporting to work deemed necessary by the government.

Nograles said, however, that Duterte will have the discretion to "relax" the extended lockdown in some areas or sectors. (READ: 4 options for the Philippines' coronavirus lockdown)

"Such extension of the ECQ shall be without prejudice to the discretion of the President to relax the implementation of the ECQ in some local jurisdictions, or the granting of exemptions in favor of certain sectors, as public health considerations and food security may warrant," Nograles said.

He added that there is no need to implement a lockdown in the Visayas and Mindanao yet, but that the situation in these areas is being monitored daily.

The extended lockdown for Luzon is the latest in the government's efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus. It comes on top of a state of national emergency, as well as earlier declarations of a state of calamity and a state of public health emergency in the country.

Worldwide, the coronavirus death toll has surpassed 73,000, while more than 1.3 million have been infected in over 190 countries and territories. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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