MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Senate of the Philippines was placed on "restricted access" starting Thursday, March 12, after a resource person in a March 5 hearing tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
After announcing a "lockdown" on Wednesday night, March 11, Senate President Vicente Sotto III clarified in a message to reporters on Thursday that access to the Senate building in Pasay City will be restricted.
"Officials and their staff who have work to do and to complete are required to report for work," Sotto said.
"However, I have given strict instructions that all employees should exercise extreme preventive practices as they go about their daily tasks. It is of utmost importance that everyone observe proper hygiene and follow protocols as a precaution against contamination," Sotto added.
Sotto said that initial disinfection was done by the janitorial service Thursday morning, but full decontamination will be done "in the coming days" by a disinfection specialist.
On Wednesday night, Sotto announced that the Senate building would be disinfected on Thursday, and CCTV cameras would be checked to monitor the interactions with the COVID-19 positive resource person.
The Senate president asked for the understanding of the public as precautionary measures have to be taken.
Sotto said that all hearings will be canceled until further notice. The only remaining Senate hearing this week is happening on Thursday – the continuation hearing on the money laundering scheme linked to Philippine offshore gaming operators. Congress is scheduled to go on recess starting March 14.
The March 5 hearing was conducted by the Senate committee on basic education, which was chaired by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. Also present at the hearing was Senator Nancy Binay. Both senators are undergoing self-quarantine.
On Monday, March 9, as COVID-19 cases in the Philippines spiked, the Senate leadership discouraged senators from holding hearings. Only 3 hearings pushed through on Tuesday, March 10, while none happened on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Commission on Appointments hearings proceeded, including the confirmation of the appointment of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte as an army reservist colonel, among dozens of other Armed Forces of the Philippines officials and foreign service officers.