Duterte places Luzon on lockdown to battle coronavirus

Sofia Tomacruz

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Duterte places Luzon on lockdown to battle coronavirus
(4th UPDATE) Calling the measure an 'enhanced community quarantine,' the President orders over 57 million people in 8 regions to stay home after officials struggle to implement strict social distancing measures in Metro Manila

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Philippine government is set to place the entire island of Luzon, home to over 57 million people, on lockdown in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.  

In a recorded message aired Monday evening, March 16, President Rodrigo Duterte said: “I have come to the conclusion that stricter measures are necessary. For this reason, pursuant to my powers as President under the Constitution and RA 11332 (Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases), I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under quarantine until April 12, 2020.” 

After going off tangent, Duterte later clarified this would be an “enhanced community quarantine:”

Earlier on Monday, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte would be announcing the sweeping restriction in a public address, only days after he hiked the alert level for the coronavirus to its maximum level of Code Red Sublevel 2.  

In a press conference Monday night, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the “enhanced community quarantine” would take effect 12 midnight of Tuesday, March 17. 

Under the new measure, strict quarantine for all households will be implemented, transportation will be suspended, and provision for food and “essential health services” will be regulated, based on a earlier memorandum released by Malacañang. Details on how these will be enforced were not provided as of posting. 

The order will also bring a heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce the strict quarantine measures across 8 regions, including the most populous region in the country, Metro Manila

“It is a matter of national survival. It is a matter of life and death so we have to sacrifice,” Panelo said later in the afternoon on Monday, in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel. 

The lockdown is an expansion of earlier efforts to implement a “community quarantine,” where the government attempted to restrict the movement of those coming into and out of Metro Manila to those working and traveling to provide essential goods. 

Public health crisis: Health officials earlier reported a steep increase in infections with the number of confirmed cases in the Philippines spiking from 6 to 140 in the span of a week. The confirmed cases included 12 deaths.  

Since the start of the government’s “community quarantine” on midnight of Sunday, March 15, gaps in implementation have exposed the challenge of enforcing thorough checkpoints for millions of commuters who traverse borders to move in and out of the National Capital Region daily.  

Long lines, traffic-clogged streets, and motorists huddled at checkpoints illustrated the near impossibility of observing social distancing measures crucial to preventing the spread of the coronavirus. 

The total lockdown on Luzon echoes measures taken in China’s Hubei province – ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak – where nearly 60 million residents have been under lockdown for over 3 months as the government struggled to address the public health crisis. Italy and Spain also declared nationwide lockdowns after cases spiked, prompting the World Health Organization to declare Europe as the new epicenter of the outbreak.  

Other measures taken: Duterte’s pronouncement is the latest after he declared classes in all levels and government work in Metro Manila suspended for one month until April 14. Additional travel restrictions were also put in place while local government across the capital region moved to implement an 8 pm to 5 am curfew in their respective areas. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Philippines counted at least 140 coronavirus cases, including 12 deaths. The virus has infected over 169,000 people and killed more than 6,000 in over 130 countries. Over 77,000 have recovered. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.