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Coronavirus: Philippines quarantines island of 57 million people

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the whole Philippine island of Luzon under an "enhanced community quarantine" until April 12 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

In a televised public address on Monday, Duterte said public movement would be restricted to only buying food, medicine and other essential items necessary for survival.

"Only establishments that provide services like food and medicine shall be open," said Duterte.

The president also instructed the labour and financial aid departments to implement measures that will alleviate the burden of the lockdown on small business and wage workers. He also urged businesses to release the mandatory 13th-month pay to their employees.

According to the health department's latest figures, there are 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the Philippines and 12 fatalities.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier explained that under an enhanced community quarantine, "strict home quarantine shall be implemented all told households, transportation shall be suspended, provision of food and essential services shall be regulated and heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures are implemented".

It is effectively a lockdown of the country's largest and most populous island, affecting about 57 million people.

"We have already got an enhanced community quarantine which we started two days ago [over Manila], we are just expanding it to the whole Luzon," said Panelo.

The move is that the most aggressive among Asian countries struggling to address the COVID-19 disease, which has already infected over 164,000 people, killed a minimum of 6,500, and crippled public health systems worldwide.

Checkpoints became chokepoints
The announcement of the lockdown came after an enormous failure to implement social distancing measures to debar the spread of coronavirus.

Duterte earlier announced a "community quarantine" starting midnight of March 15, alienating domestic air, land and sea access to the capital megacity of Manila in an endeavor to debar the spread. Classes and work for non-essential services were suspended, and an estimated 12 million residents were asked to remain reception.

The measure made Arnold Vega's morning commute appear as if a mass exodus.

Mayon volcano threat sparks mass evacuation in Philippines (2:37)
Vega pushed and jostled his way through a throng of passengers to induce on a service vehicle and cross town border that separates his suburb of Bulacan from the mega-metropolis of Manila where he's employed as a nurse during a health clinic.

Police and military personnel stationed at checkpoints took each person's temperature, pointing thermal scanners at foreheads, able to separate those that showed any signs of fever. Many of the uniformed personnel weren't wearing adequate protective gear. Passengers also had to point out proof that they worked in Manila by showing either a corporation ID or a certificate of employment.

Public utility vehicles operated at half capacity as strict social distancing required passengers to take a seat one seat apart. Some drivers asked passengers to pay twice their fare to form up for the lost seat.

It took Vega four hours to induce to figure. "It was total chaos."

Earlier Monday, several malls across the assorted districts of Manila announced their closure for one month. Mayors met with mall owners to debate ways to alleviate the impact of closures on employees who are mostly contractual daily wage earners.

Other cities declared a state of calamity or went on their own version of lockdown.

Who will be sure of health workers?
Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of doctors, lambasted the government's attempt at quarantine. "What we'd like is mass testing, more trained healthcare workers, and an increased health budget."

The Duterte administration slashed the 2020 health budget by $197m but committed a further $44.5m to shop for protective gear for healthcare workers.

"Where is that promised budget? whilst COVID-19 cases keep climbing, our healthcare workers still work without proper protective gear. Who will be sure of everyone else if doctors get sick?"

According to Mendoza, there are about 46 healthcare workers who have coronavirus symptoms and are currently being monitored.

Safety nets
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the leftist group Bagong Alyangsang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance), said the govt must consider ways to shield low-income daily wage earners who are hardest hit by the lockdown.

"Social distancing and work from house is impossible for daily wage earners. For them, it's no work, no pay so no choice. they'll risk getting COVID-19 to stay their jobs," he added.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros estimated a minimum of 650,000 Filipino households would become the "new poor" in Metro Manila alone due to the economic implications of the lockdown and moved for a $250 cash aid for those stricken by the financial whiplash.

"The president's directive for an 'enhanced community quarantine' in Luzon ... should be implemented as a public health measure that takes into consideration the welfare of the foremost vulnerable," said Hontiveros during a statement.

Some of the provisions of the quarantine measures made some citizens nervous and therefore the threat of arrest for those that violated the lockdown or were disobedient mirrored the remnants of jurisprudence. The Philippines had a history of jurisprudence within the 1970s under the Marcos dictatorship and alleged extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.

But security analyst Jose Antonio Custodio failed to think so. "It's off from jurisprudence. It's more sort of a massive humanitarian crisis response that leaves much to be desired thanks to poor planning and knee-jerk reactions."


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