MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday placed the northern third of the country under an “enhanced community quarantine” that requires millions of people to stay mostly at home in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, which has killed a dozen people in the Southeast Asian nation.
Under the monthlong containment, most office work and mass public transportation on Luzon Island, which includes the capital, Manila, will be suspended, officials said. Public movement will be restricted and large gatherings banned except for medical and other emergencies.
Banks, hospitals, drugstores and supermarkets will remain open but only one family member can leave home to buy food and the establishments should observe “social distancing,” officials said.
Duterte also placed the rest of the Philippines under “a state of public health emergency” and ordered mayors and village officials to take steps to fight the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the archipelago of more than 100 million people.
“This is not martial law,” Duterte said in televised remarks. But he also threatened people who defy the moves with arrest.
Cabinet officials responded to a flurry of questions after Duterte’s announcement. “When in doubt, stay home,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said.
They said schools and government office work in the executive department would be suspended, but police, military, coast guard and health personnel would remain on duty. “A strict home quarantine shall be observed in all households,” Nograles said.
Land, air and sea travel to Luzon would be restricted, he said.
In an initial attempt to isolate large numbers of Filipinos on Sunday, Duterte placed metropolitan Manila, home to more than 12 million people, in a monthlong “community quarantine” that suspended most domestic travel to and from the capital and prohibited large public gatherings.
Police and army troops manned checkpoints at entryways to the metropolis, checking the temperatures of commuters in a laborious effort that snarled traffic. A lack of clear guidelines sparked confusion and chaotic arguments in many areas.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said many loopholes set back the containment attempt, with commuters still cramming public buses and crowding together at checkpoints on Monday. That prompted some Cabinet officials to recommend a more drastic containment effort to the president, Panelo said in a televised news conference, where he wore a protective mask.
“This is a matter of national survival,” Panelo said. “This is a matter of life and death.”
The opposition expressed concern over the government’s handling of the health crisis, saying it should subsidize impoverished people without access to medical services who stand to lose income if they’re isolated from work.
“The respect and protection of the rights of Filipinos should never be compromised,” opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. “At this extraordinary time, I urge the national and local governments to ensure that safety nets to immediately provide proper social protection and assistance to the public be cast.”
Philippine health officials reported 29 new cases of coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the number of cases in the country to 140. Twelve of those infected have died, the most in Southeast Asia.
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri announced Monday he had tested positive for the virus, becoming the highest Philippine official to be infected. He said he didn’t have any symptoms and went into self-quarantine after a congressional session last week. “I got contaminated. How? I do not know,” he said on Facebook.
The 74-year-old Duterte tested negative for the virus last week, officials said.
While the virus can be deadly, particularly for the elderly and people with other health problems, for most people it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Some feel no symptoms at all and the vast majority of people recover.
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