What could happen under a coronavirus lockdown?

Loreben Tuquero

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What could happen under a coronavirus lockdown?
(UPDATED) From halting public transport to banning public gatherings, these measures take effect in areas under lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Amid a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Thursday evening, March 12, that Metro Manila will be placed under lockdown for at least 30 days starting March 15.

Duterte also announced the raising of alert levels to the maximum Code Red-Sublevel 2, which signifies the presence of sustained community transmission that is beyond the capacity of government to trace.

Before the announcement, Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said a lockdown would mean that people will be confined in one area and will not be allowed by authorities to leave.

Metro Manila mayors had their own apprehensions about imposing such a lockdown.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier expressed a preference for localized lockdowns instead of a lockdown of the metropolis. This would mean that only areas with recorded localized transmission would be placed under lockdown.

But the lockdown announced by Duterte covered all 16 cities and one municipality of Metro Manila, as recommended by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the IATF’s resolution, land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila will be suspended. Community quarantine will also be imposed in the entire metropolis.

Further, classes in all levels and government work are suspended until April 12.

Widescale lockdowns were imposed by China and Italy as a measure to contain the outbreak. Compared to the Philippines’ 52 confirmed coronavirus cases, China had over 80,000 cases and Italy over 10,000 cases, respectively.

Pending the President’s executive order and more defined guidelines from concerned government agencies, what else could happen in Metro Manila under the lockdown? How is it being done in other countries?

Movement would be severely restricted. Being the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the city of Wuhan in China has been under lockdown since January 23. Residents were told not to leave the city.

Planes and trains were banned from exiting the area and road tollways out of the city were closed. While departures were prohibited, trains and planes were allowed entry into Wuhan.

Soon after, Huanggang also suspended public transport and train services and prohibited residents from exiting the city. Other cities, including Ezhou, Xiantao, and Chibi, also restricted mobility. Ezhou closed its train station, Xiantao closed highways, and Chibi suspended public transport, respectively.

By January 28, over 56 million people in the province of Hubei were placed under lockdown as public transport was effectively halted.

Beijing and Shanghai, among other megacities, suspended the entry and departure of long-distance bus services. Over 400 inter-province train services were canceled for weeks.

In Italy, people were not allowed to travel except for “serious reasons” like urgent work or family matters that cannot be postponed.

On the same day that the Metro Manila lockdown was announced, the city government of Davao also prohibited residents from exiting the city. Further, all short-term visitors were advised to leave the city immediately.

The IATF’s resolution allowed mass public transport systems, including the Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit lines and the Philippine National Railways, to continue operations, provided that social distancing will be implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOTr).

Meanwhile, highways leading out of the metropolis could be blocked due to the ban on land travel. Provincial buses may also be prohibited from taking passengers from Metro Manila.

The DOTr is expected to define the guidelines of this provision.

A similar situation took place during the threat of the Taal Volcano eruption, wherein several towns in Batangas were put under lockdown. The military cordoned off roads that led to these towns, prohibiting residents from going back to their homes.

Large public events would be prohibited. In some areas in China, group tours and large public events for the Lunar New Year holiday in January were also canceled.

Outside the epicenter, Beijing canceled mass gatherings as well.

In Italy, all forms of gathering in public places were prohibited on a national scale. All organized public events, including cultural, recreational, religious, and sports activities, were suspended. (READ: Serie A, all sport in Italy halted because of coronavirus crisis)

Indoor events that are open to the public, such as those conducted in cinemas, theaters, pubs, dance schools, game rooms, etc, were also prohibited in Italy. Civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals, were also suspended.

Some regions in the Philippines had already enacted similar measures prior to the announcement of Metro Manila’s lockdown. A few local government units outside the National Capital Region had taken steps to prohibit crowd-drawing activities across their locales.

As early as February 13, for example, eco-tourism activities in the municipality of Sagada were suspended. The suspension was partially lifted on February 21, except for spelunking and sunrise viewing activities.

But on March 11, tourism-related activities and events with 50 or more participants were suspended anew, covering festivals, family reunions, concerts, sports events, etc.

Meanwhile, Baguio canceled the 2020 Panagbenga Flower Festival and the Cordillera Administrative Region Athletic Association Games.

The IATF resolution also banned mass gatherings in Metro Manila.

Since the coronavirus outbreak continued during the Lenten Season, banning mass events in Metro Manila could also mean that Holy Week practices such as pilgrimages, processions, etc, may be canceled.

Commercial establishments and public institutions would be closed. In China’s Huanggang, cinemas, internet cafes, and the central market in Huanggang were closed.

Schools and universities were also closed.

In Italy, establishments may open and/or commercial may activities continue if management or organizers take steps to ensure that their visitors stay at least one meter away from one another. This applied to restaurants, bars, and religious spaces. If this provision is violated, the structure will be closed or the activity will be suspended.

Entry to places of worship in Italy was conditional depending on organizational measures to avoid large gatherings, considering the dimensions and characteristics of the structure.

Classes in all levels are also suspended. Meanwhile, public and private employers were asked to promote employees’ leave periods.

Duterte already previously suspended classes in Metro Manila from March 10 to March 14. (READ: How Metro schools continue lessons amid coronavirus threat)

Sagada implemented less restrictive measures, only discouraging advance bookings in inns and other homestay establishments. Walk-in guests were advised to visit the Rural Health Unit for monitoring and must remain indoors during their stay in Sagada.

Graduation ceremonies were supposed to last for less than 5 hours, and attendees of these ceremonies were required to submit themselves for monitoring at the local health unit.

In the province of Quezon, Cagbalete Island and other tourist sites have also been closed to domestic and foreign tourists.

In the IATF resolution, manufacture, retail, and service establishments were advised to continue operations provided that they adhere to social distancing. “Flexible work arrangements” were also encouraged.

Buying groceries could be more difficult. In February, new restrictions in Wuhan included barring residents from leaving their neighborhoods. These residents had to depend on online group-buying services to acquire food.

In some neighborhoods, supermarkets deliver orders in bulk through the group-buying services. In other districts, supermarkets were prohibited from selling to individuals, which forced neighborhoods to either buy in bulk or not at all.

However, some cities in China also suspended online taxi services. In Metro Manila, a similar lockdown would mean that ride-hailing apps and food delivery services may be suspended. Carpooling service Grabshare is suspended is the metro and in Cebu starting noon of March 13.

Due to fears of a lockdown, Metro Manila residents have resorted to panic buying. Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto, for one, called on his constituents to stay calm and be considerate of those who may be affected by lack of supplies. –  Rappler.com 

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Loreben Tuquero

Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.