Manila -- Filipinos woke up to an unusually quiet Sunday on March 15 as Metro Manila started its first day on “community quarantine,” the government’s lockdown of the capital as a precautionary move against Covid-19 or the coronavirus disease that has multiplied from six to 111 cases in one week, and six deaths.
For the first time, Metro Manila streets, which regularly see families going to Sunday mass, were deserted as Catholic churches canceled masses and people stayed home after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced in a nationally televised address two days earlier a sweeping lockdown and ordered a stop to domestic travel on sea, air and land to contain the disease.
Duterte’s lockdown order is from March 15 to April 14, 2020, a month-long stop in domestic travel as well as orders to stay home, for companies and offices to adopt the work-from-home policy, if applicable, observance of preventive health practices such as frequent hand washing, and “social distancing” or avoiding crowds, gatherings or being near each other. Government authorities said the measure will be reviewed on a daily basis and may be lifted earlier or extended further.
The lockdown took effect as news of the most recent death of an infected employee of the House of Representatives and the infection of 12 health workers of the Philippine Heart Center, a specialty hospital, were reported and Metro Manila residents received text advisories from the national telecommunications agency of the raised alert system of Code Red Level 2 nonstop on their mobile phones.
Critics and netizens questioned the lockdown as Metro Manila, whose majority of 12 million people are housed in populated neighborhoods, is a metropolis surrounded by suburbs where millions of workers and employees travel in and out on any given day.The population rises to 14 million on work weekdays. Others expressed rage on Duterte’s “heavy-handed” move that will impact harshly on those struggling to pursue some form of livelihood that entails travel to Metro Manila.
The lockdown began as schools across the capital were closed for the second week, and government offices scaled down their staff. Private companies have also opted to adopt the work-from-home arrangements. International organizations such as the Asian Development Bank that holds office in Mandaluyong City, one of Metro Manila’s 16 cities, has adopted the same policy and closed its offices. Concerts, sporting events, large seminars, and big social gatherings have all been canceled.
Social distancing has yet to be implemented in the region’s mass transportation, which are usually crowded, but with work schedules and arrangements adjusted, the Department of Transportation said it can now be possible to position one passenger an arm apart from a fellow passenger at the Light Rail Transit systems, Metro Rail Transit and the Philippine National Railways that ferry commuters daily.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles assured that the delivery of food and food products to and from Metro Manila from the provinces will continue, as well as the provision of adequate supply in supermarkets.
As of this writing, the Philippine National Police announced that it has deployed thousands of police personnel in more than 70 checkpoints around Metro Manila to ensure that people who leave and enter the metropolis fit the government’s list of exemptions, and these include health professionals, government officials, workers, and people travelling for medical or humanitarian reasons. The people in the list will be checked for proper identification.
The execution of a lockdown has yet to pan out. Miles Vitug, a personal shopper, said she fears that the lockdown will affect her daily life, with the police and military personnel visibly around. “The sight of them makes me feel we’re under martial law,” she says. “Duterte is so fond of militarizing everything it angers a lot of ordinary people like me who want to live in peace.”
Cabinet Secretary Nograles said “community quarantine” is the more appropriate term. “We don’t want to use lockdown because you’re afraid to call it a lockdown. But it’s a lockdown,” he said, but he qualified that it doesn’t mean no more food supply, which makes people panic.
Days before the lockdown, long lines of people stocking on supplies have plagued supermarkets, prompting the government to issue rules to sell only two bottles of alcohol and sanitizer per person and to assure that there is enough supply of food and goods. But the panic-buying has not stopped.