Covid-19 'hot spot' Cebu City to remain on lockdown; Manila restrictions eased further

A police officer mans a checkpoint along a road in Cebu City, central Philippines on June 24, 2020.
A police officer mans a checkpoint along a road in Cebu City, central Philippines on June 24, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to keep Cebu City on lockdown for two more weeks, as the government scrambles to contain a coronavirus outbreak there.

Quarantine restrictions in Metropolitan Manila, meanwhile, are being further eased to revive the capital's battered economy.

"Cebu is now the hot spot. Why? Because you refuse to follow," Mr Duterte said in a news briefing late on Tuesday (June 30).

He chafed at what he saw as the stubbornness of those in Cebu.

"You do not follow the rules. If you're really sick in the mind, think of your fellow man. All I'm asking is you keep yourself alive, and not to spread the infection," he said.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, dispatched by Mr Duterte to oversee efforts to slow the spread of the virus in Cebu, told reporters earlier in the day "it's bleeding now". "The number of cases is increasing, as well as the number of deaths."

Cebu's health unit on Monday reported 191 new cases of Covid-19, the disease the virus causes, bringing the total number of cases in the city to 5,141. At least 169 have died.

Cebu had been on hard lockdown since last Wednesday.

About 100 checkpoints have been set up around the city to make sure everyone stays home, and only those on "essential runs" can go out.

The government is sending more doctors to Cebu to reinforce health workers there who are exhausted and overwhelmed, as Covid-19 cases pile up and hospital beds run out.

Police special forces, drones and other resources are also being deployed to help the local government implement shelter-at-home and movement restrictions.

"Cebu City is where Metro Manila was when it was seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases from March 24 to April 13," Mr Carlito Galvez, who heads a task force overseeing the government's efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, said on Monday.

He reported that at one hospital, 86 out of 122 Covid-19 patients died less than 48 hours after they were admitted.

"This means we're not detecting their severe cases fast enough," he said.

Three in 10 suspected Covid-19 patients in Cebu are turning up positive.

Quarantine curbs around Metro Manila, meanwhile, will be further relaxed to restore jobs and restart the capital's economy.

"What was approved in principle is that it is important to open the economy so that we can start recovering from the lockdown. It's really important to reopen our economy," Mr Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.

About a million workers lost their jobs in Metro Manila in April, as the nationwide unemployment rate soared to a record-high of 17.7 per cent that month because of the lockdown.

Lockdown curbs were enforced through a web of checkpoints, barricades and curfews across the Philippines on March 16.

Mr Duterte eased the lockdown on June 1, as he sought to walk the fine line between protecting the country's over 107 million people from Covid-19 while reviving the economy which is facing its biggest contraction in more than three decades.

The economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter. The last time it slid into negative territory was in 1998, when the country was pummelled by the Asian financial crisis and a long dry spell.