Metro Manila to be placed on lockdown due to coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Metro Manila, a region of over 12 million people, will be placed on lockdown for at least 30 days to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines.

This was announced by President Rodrigo Duterte in an evening address on Thursday, March 12, after declaring that the alert level for the coronavirus has been raised to its maximum level of Code Red Sublevel 2, marking the first massive lockdown in the country in recent history.

The lockdown covers 16 cities and one municipality of Metro Manila, as prescribed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus outbreak, which is composed of key Duterte Cabinet officials.

"The recommendation of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group on imposing Stringent Social Distancing Measures in the National Capital Region are adopted for a period of 30 days," the IATF's Resolution No. 11 reads.

It adds: "Land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila shall be suspended after the expiration of 48 hours from issuance of this Resolution." 

Under Section 6 Article III of the Constitution, the government has the power to limit the right of people to travel if it is "in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law."

Transportation officials have yet to draft the implementing guidelines on the travel restrictions. Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Libiran told reporters late Thursday that road transport officials will meet on Friday, March 13, at 1 pm to define the guidelines.

The resolution also imposed a "community quarantine" over the entire Metro Manila region. Details of how this will be enforced was not elaborated by the resolution.

President Duterte read from the resolution submitted by the task force, with the premise that he would turn the resolution into an executive order to make it enforceable.

Duterte said the lockdown will begin on March 15 and last until April 14. 

"For Manila, may 'Ayaw naming gamitin 'yan,' pero kasi takot kayong sabihing lockdown, but it's a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here, walang away dito, walang giyera. It's just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19," Duterte said on Thursday night, while reading the community quarantine part of the resolution.

(For Manila, some say 'We don't want to use that term,' but that's because you're afraid to call it a lockdown, but it's a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here, there is no fight here, no war. It's just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19.)

Smaller community quarantines allowed: The IATF Resolution also allowed community quarantine for other areas, with the following guidelines:

Other measures: Classes in all levels and government work are suspended for one month, up until April 12.

The measures echo those taken in China's central Hubei province, whose nearly 60 million residents have been under lockdown since late January when the government rushed to put a lid on the virus that first emerged in the regional capital, Wuhan. Italy also declared a lockdown for its entire 60-million population on March 10.

As of March 12, the Philippines has recorded a total of 52 cases. The virus has infected more than 125,000 people and killed 4,600 across 115 countries. More than 62,000 people have recovered from the virus.

The virus is transmitted through droplets from the nose and mouth. How fast it spreads remains a puzzle for scientists across the globe. – with reports from Aika Rey and Agence France-Presse/

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.