THE GOVERNMENT on Monday threatened to close malls under a new lockdown for failing to enforce physical distancing measures meant to contain a coronavirus pandemic.
The state could reimpose the lockdown it had relaxed this month if people continue to ignore the rules, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing.
“We might return to an enhanced community quarantine if there’s no cooperation,” he said in Filipino. “A reminder to mall owners: You will be ordered closed again if you don’t enforce social distancing.”
Mr. Roque noted that no one is safe in the absence of a vaccine for COVID-19. “The virus is still there.”
The warning comes after photos circulated online showing people crowding at major malls. Photos also showed people working out in gyms and eating at restaurants.
SM, Robinsons and other malls were allowed to reopen at the weekend under relaxed lockdown rules as the government tries to revive an economy that the virus brought to a near standstill.
But the government barred mall operators from offering free WiFi and ordered them to use warmer air-conditioning settings to discourage overcrowding. People should also keep a distance from each other.
Mr. Roque said hospital capacity is limited and the country can’t afford a spike in infections. He added that there were only 30 laboratories than can test coronavirus disease 2019 samples.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March to contain the pandemic that has sickened almost 13,000 people in the Philippines.
People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said. Mr. Duterte has extended the so-called enhanced community quarantine twice for the island and thrice for the capital region where novel coronavirus infections are concentrated.
Metro Manila and key cities and regions were kept under a modified lockdown from May 16 to 30, while some businesses were allowed to reopen with a skeletal workforce.
The Department of Health reported 205 new infections yesterday, bringing the total to 12,718.
The death toll rose to 831 after seven more patients died, it said in a bulletin. Ninety-four more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 2,729, it added.
Of the 205 new cases, 145 came from Metro Manila, 8 from Central Visayas and 52 from the other regions, DoH said.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire warned the public not to swarm into malls to avoid spreading the virus.
Marife Yap, senior policy adviser at ThinkWell, said at the same briefing the country still faces testing capacity problems given the limited supply of reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction test kits.
The testing kit recommended by the World Health Organization is still being imported and it takes two to three weeks for these to arrive, she said.
Ms. Yap said the government was working with private partners to set up a system that will show the testing capacity of laboratories to address their needs.
Eva Dela Paz, vice chancellor for research at the University of the Philippines Manila, said testing capacity could be expanded by training personnel.
The government is targeting to boost testing capacity to 30,000 samples daily by the end of the month from less than 10,000 now. — Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas