President Rodrigo R. Duterte yesterday ordered a one-month halt to land, domestic air and sea travels to and from Metro Manila as part of government efforts to contain a novel coronavirus outbreak that has infected at least 52 people in the Philippines.
Mr. Duterte also suspended work in the Executive branch for a month from March 15, and extended class suspensions at all levels until April 12.
Companies should allow work-from-home and other flexible arrangements to prevent the spread of the virus, he said.
Government agencies can form “skeletal workforces” to ensure unimpeded delivery of services, Mr. Duterte said.
Manufacturing, retail and service establishments should continue operating, he said.
The President, who did not use the term “lockdown” for these measures, made the announcement in a televised speech after meeting with an inter-agency task force against the contagion that has killed more than 4,600 people and sickened about 126,000 more worldwide, mostly in China.
Mr. Duterte said the alert level had been raised to code red sublevel 2, which means there have been community transmissions and increased infection cases beyond the government’s responding capacity.
Mass gatherings are prohibited, while the entire Metro Manila must undergo community quarantines.
Mr. Duterte said local governments outside the metro must undergo village, city and provincial quarantines when there are at least two coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases from two different households, villages and cities, respectively.
Mass public transport including the Light Rail Transit, Metro Rail Transit and Philippine National Railways would continue, the president said. The Transportation department will issue guidelines on social distancing, he said.
Mr. Duterte also partially lifted the travel ban on China, saying Filipino workers may go there except Hubei province — where the virus was first detected in its capital, Wuhan City — provided they sign a document signifying their understanding of the risks.
The president said he would issue an executive order to formalize the recommendations of the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The Health department yesterday reported three new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total to 52.
DoH data showed two of the patients had no travel history, while the 52nd case had been to the United Kingdom.
The patients were being treated at the Medical City, Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital.
Two of the patients are from Quezon City, while the other’s residence was still being validated, DoH said.
The agency said there were 99 Filipinos overseas who had been infected — 80 in Japan, two in the United Arab Emirates, five in Hong Kong, and six each in Singapore and the US.
The World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic.
DoH also confirmed the death of the 35th case, a 67-year-old female, on March 11 due to severe pneumonia.
Earlier, a Chinese national from Wuhan City in China’s Hubei province died after testing positive for the disease here.
The Health department said elderly people, 66 years on average, and those with medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and immunosuppression are vulnerable to COVID-19.
“We further urge those who are immunocompromised and are with existing health conditions to be more vigilant and avoid crowded areas and mass gatherings.” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a statement.
Also yesterday, Senate premises were put under “restricted access” while the building was being sanitized after a resource person who attended a hearing later tested positive for the novel coronavirus strain, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a teleconference.
“I have issued a directive to the Senate sergeant-at-arms, the Senate is now under restricted access, not lockdown, as the term lockdown has been misinterpreted and abused,” he said.
This means Senate officials and their staff may be allowed to enter the Senate building if they need to complete some work.
Mr. Sotto on Wednesday evening announced a lockdown after Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian confirmed a resource person present at a March 5 hearing later tested positive.
Senate hearings would be suspended until the building is fully disinfected, Mr. Sotto said.
The blue ribbon committee headed by Senator Richard J. Gordon, was scheduled to continue its probe on alleged money laundering on Thursday. Mr. Gordon postponed the hearing after the lockdown.
Both Senator Gatchalian and Senator Nancy S. Binay said they were under self-quarantine starting Wednesday evening. Ten other senators followed their lead on Thursday.
These include Senators Juan Miguel F. Zubiri, Franklin M. Drilon, Panfilo M. Lacson, Juan Edgardo M. Angara, Ramon B. Revilla, Jr., Imee R. Marcos, Francis N. Tolentino, Francis N. Pangilinan , Ralph G. Recto and Manuel M. Lapid.
Mr. Gatchalian said he was not showing symptoms but would be tested for possible infection.
Mr. Lacson said if Mr. Gatchalian tests positive for the virus, he will likewise subject himself to the test, having shared an elevator ride with him. — Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas