MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday urged citizens to “be patient” as he announced an extension to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in the country’s capital region until May 15.
The Luzon island-wide enhanced community quarantine measure, one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to curb the spread of the deadly virus, was imposed in March with a view to it being lifted on April 30.
But in a recorded public address, Duterte said: “We are just waiting for the right time. Just be patient, please. We are trying to limit the contamination. We are all at risk. But do not increase the odds or the chances of getting it (COVID-19).”
Following a series of meetings with medical experts and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the president moved to extend the quarantine period in the Metro Manila region, where the outbreak has been at its worst, along with other high-risk areas in Luzon and parts of Visayas and Mindanao, including the city of Davao.
The latest measures will be re-evaluated by Filipino authorities on May 16.
Quarantine in lower-risk regions will be modified, allowing partial resumption of commercial activity, transportation and construction works from May 1. If there is no deterioration, normalization will start on May 16.
In a press briefing at the presidential palace, National Task Force COVID chief Carlito Galvez Jr. said Metro Manila had “more or less” 12,000 suspected COVID-19 cases out of a population of more than 12.8 million. Through aggressive testing, he added, the government aimed to bring the number down to zero.
He pointed out that the enhanced community quarantine in the capital region could not be lifted due to the risk of a second wave of infections, and that the government’s extension was in accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Filipino Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the additional two weeks’ extension was to allow time for the country’s health care system to prepare medical facilities and reach a high testing capacity in readiness to deal with any rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.
Vergeire added that the public should be ready for a “new normal” where physical distancing and stricter hygiene measures would remain as the “virus will still be here.”
Meanwhile, Duterte repeated his threat to impose martial law if communist guerrillas active in the country’s north attacked government forces delivering aid to communities during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“I am now warning everybody and putting the armed forces and police on notice. I might declare martial law and there will be no turning back,” he said.