By Norman P. Aquino and Gillian M. Cortez
A nine-hour curfew starting at 8 p.m. on March 15 will be enforced in Manila, the capital and nearby cities as part of government efforts to contain a novel coronavirus that has killed at least eight people and sickened 90 more in the Philippines.
Seventeen Metro Manila mayors had approved a resolution imposing the curfew during the one-month lockdown that also banned land, domestic air and sea travels to and from the region, San Juan City Mayor Francisco Javier M. Zamora said at a briefing on Saturday.
Mr. Zamora, who read a copy of the resolution issued by the Metro Manila Council, also said mayors had passed a separate order urging mall operators to shut down for a month to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“Strict measures of social distancing and community quarantine must be adopted,” he said. These measures would “preserve and protect the lives of their constituents,” Mr. Zamora said.
Supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants with home deliveries, banks and outlets that offer health services will be allowed to operate.
Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said malls would have to close for a month in keeping with the ban on mass gatherings.
“We will include it in the order,” he told reporters in a Viber message when asked if the closure was just a suggestion.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 34 more infections on Saturday, bringing the total to 98.
“The details of these new cases are currently being validated by our teams and will be provided to the public as soon as the information is available and verified by the department,” it said in a statement.
The agency was verifying reports of more infections, it said.
DoH also said 13 people from the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City, including 12 health workers, were being monitored after they were exposed to a COVID-19 patient who has since died.
The hospital was limiting its operations to in-patient and emergency cases after the incident.
Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City had also reported several health workers being exposed to the COVID-19 virus, DOH said, adding that it was still verifying data.
Meanwhile, the presidential palace released a memo extending class suspensions until April 15 and detailing quarantine and social distancing measures for the metro.
Under the rules, mass gatherings including movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities, community assemblies and nonessential company gatherings will be banned.
Religious gatherings and essential company meetings are allowed as long as people maintain a one-meter distance from each other, according to a copy of the memo signed by Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea.
A community quarantine will be imposed on the entire Metro Manila. Local governments must follow either general and enhanced community quarantines imposed by the Department of Health and Interior and Local Government department.
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.
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 workforce also won’t be covered.
Under an enhanced quarantine, home quarantine will be enforced in all households, transportation will be suspended and provision of food and health services will be regulated.
The memo does not say what could bring about an enhanced quarantine.
People leaving Metro Manila must be checked for signs of infection such as fever and other respiratory symptoms at exit checkpoints. A certification will then be issued by health authorities to the traveler, who must undergo a 14-day home-based quarantine.
“Don’t think about coming here,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Año told Metro Manila outsiders at the same briefing that was streamed live on YouTube.
He added that people who leave the metro won’t be able to return until the end of the month-long lockdown period. “It’s that simple.”
Mr. Año said people who don’t cooperate would be told to go home. “If they resist, they will be arrested.”
President Rodrigo R. 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 “skeletal workforces” to ensure unimpeded delivery of services, Mr. Duterte said.
The President made the announcement in a televised speech after meeting with an inter-agency task force against the contagion that has killed more than 5,000 people and sickened about 140,000 more worldwide, mostly in China.
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. — with Jenina P. Ibañez