THE BANGSAMORO Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) government appealed for the public’s cooperation as it tracks down the people who attended a recent big gathering of Islamic preachers in Kuala Lumpur, where many of Malaysia’s COVID-19 cases are linked.

BARMM Health Minister Saffrullah Dipatuan, in a live-streamed press briefing Wednesday afternoon, said getting the exact number and names of attendees is a “big challenge” as some “refuse to admit” their participation for fear of “social stigma.”

Mr. Dipatuan noted that the participants are not just from the BARMM, but all over the Philippines.

The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), in a separate statement, said initial information indicate there were “215 attendees from the Philippines, mostly from BARMM.”

The Department of Health (DoH), in its March 18 update, reported the death of a 58-year old Filipino male from Lanao del Sur, one of the BARMM provinces, who has travel history from Malaysia. He died on March 17 and his positive result for COVID-19 was released March 18.

The first confirmed case of the new coronavirus disease in Cotabato City, BARMM’s political center, is a patient who attended the gathering held February 27-March 1 at the Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur.

Cotabato City is already on lockdown and identified communities that are affected have been placed under quarantine.

Mr. Dipatuan said the BARMM inter-agency task force on COVID-19 is coordinating with local governments, the NCMF, other national agencies, and the government of Malaysia for tracing.

Meanwhile, neighboring Zamboanga City is implementing an enhanced community quarantine effective March 20, which means stricter measures from its current isolation policy.

Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar issued the new directive Thursday to mitigate what the executive order labels as “the impending spread of COVID-19.”

As of March 18, the independent city still has no confirmed case of the new coronavirus, while there are 12 persons under investigation (PUI) and 353 under monitoring (PUM).

With the enhanced community quarantine, public transportation will be suspended, “strict home quarantine will be implemented in all household,” and only “establishments providing basic necessities will remain open.”

The Davao Region, the first to declare a regional level community quarantine, will have its borders closed for incoming persons and vehicles, except for cargo, until April 1.

Under the regional Covid-19 task force’s directive, those “who want to leave the region can leave anytime but cannot come back during the lockdown period.”

The region is composed of Davao City and the provinces of Davao Oriental, Occidental, de Oro, del Norte, and del Sur.

As of 6 p.m. March 18, the region has one confirmed COVID-19 case, 88 PUIs of whom 31 have been discharged, and 3,589 PUMs.

The Department of Health-Davao Region (DoH-11) also announced on Thursday the death of three individuals who were placed under investigation.

However, the DoH-11 has yet to confirm whether they died of the coronavirus disease pending results of their tests from the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine. —Carmelito Q. Francisco