By Norman P. Aquino Special Reports Editor
and Gillian M. Cortez Reporter
PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday ordered the lockdown of the entire Luzon island to contain a rapid novel coronavirus outbreak, suspending work and public transportation and regulating food and health services, according to his spokesman.
The President ordered that Luzon be placed under “enhanced community quarantine” to stop the outbreak that has killed at least 12 people and sickened 128 more in the Philippines, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo told reporters in a Viber message.
“It is effective immediately,” he later told CNN Philippines. Mr. Duterte was scheduled to detail his order in a speech later.
The spokesman announced the wider lockdown — initially limited to Manila, the capital and nearby cities — while Mr. Duterte was meeting with an interagency task force made up of Cabinet members against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The virus that the World Health Organization has called a pandemic has killed more than 6,500 people and sickened about 170,000 more worldwide, mostly in China.
“Please tell people: ‘Don’t panic,’” Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez told reporters in a Viber message. “There will be food and necessities, more than enough.”
He added that supermarkets, drugstores and banks would remain open, while cargo transporting basic goods would be allowed to cross the checkpoints unhampered.
Police earlier deployed 1,600 cops and set up 56 checkpoints in Metro Manila to monitor the movement of people under the month-long metro lockdown that started on March 15.
Checkpoints were set up in the cities of Caloocan, Malabon, Valenzuela, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Parañaque, Marikina and Pasig, Brigadier General Debold M. Sinas, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), told a news briefing on Sunday.
The presidential palace had not clarified Mr. Duterte’s latest order as of press time, but it had issued a memo over the weekend detailing general and enhanced quarantine procedures — so-called social distancing measures — for the metro.
The memo that also extended class suspensions until April 15 banned mass gatherings including movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities, community assemblies and nonessential company gatherings.
Religious gatherings and essential company meetings were allowed as long as people maintained a one-meter distance from each other.
A “general community quarantine” was imposed on the entire Metro Manila that police were to enforce.
Under a general quarantine, the movement of people will be limited to accessing basic goods and work, while police and quarantine officers will be present at border points, according to the weekend memo signed by Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea.
Police will restrict the nonessential entry and exit of people to and from Metro Manila, especially people who are at high risk of being infected such as senior citizens and pregnant women.
Health workers, authorized government officials, those traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons and people on their way to the airport for travel overseas will be exempted from the restrictions. People providing basic services and public utilities and essential skeletal work force also won’t be covered.
Aside from suspending transportation and regulating food and health services, home quarantine will also be enforced in all households under a stricter “enhanced community quarantine,” according to the memo.
Company revenues are expected to fall by as much as 15% because of the Luzon lockdown, George T. Barcelon, director of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said by telephone.
Factories in Luzon would probably shut down and customers from the other two main islands — Visayas and Mindanao — would be affected, he said.
Mr. Barcelon said the government should ensure that people, especially the poor are given grocery items, not just money, during the lockdown period.
He said the slowdown was not limited to the Philippines but was also being experienced by the entire world.
“We have no choice,” he said of Mr. Duterte’s latest order. “We will abide by whatever the government pronounced.”
“I wish it would be shorter,” Mr. Barcelon said, noting that the daily wage earner would be the most affected. “We don’t want them to suffer.”
Mr. Duterte on Thursday ordered the lockdown and suspended work in the Executive branch for a month.
Companies should allow work-from-home and other flexible arrangements to prevent the spread of the virus, he said. Government agencies can form “skeleton workforces” to ensure unimpeded delivery of services, Mr. Duterte said earlier.
Mr. Duterte said the highest alert level — code red sublevel 2 — was up, which means there have been community transmissions and increased infection cases beyond the government’s responding capacity.
Cotabato City and Mr. Duterte’s hometown of Davao City had been placed under quarantine to prevent the virus from spreading in southern Philippines. The provinces of Cebu and Negros Occidental also closed their borders from the rest of the country for 30 days.
Earlier on Monday, Mr. Panelo told a news briefing that the quarantine was “a matter of national survival.” “We have to be resigned to that fact. This is a matter of life and death. The only way to stop this is for us to help ourselves.” — with Jenina P. Ibañez