Duterte says sorry, restores quarantine restrictions around Manila as Covid-19 cases soar

Health workers perform swab tests to government workers in Quezon City, northeast of Manila, on July 30, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte late on Sunday (Aug 2) restored stricter quarantine restrictions around Metropolitan Manila after the Philippines tallied four straight days of record increases in coronavirus infections, and health workers warned of a collapse of the healthcare system.

"The cry of the moment… is well taken, and they are right, the health workers… We agree that you are bone-weary, both from the pressure and also the uncertainty and fear of getting Covid and not having anything in return," Mr Duterte said in a late-evening broadcast after meeting with his ministers.

He approved a recommendation from a task force overseeing efforts to slow the virus' spread to put the capital - home to about 12 million people- and a nearby region back on "modified enhanced community quarantine" from Tuesday (Aug 4) to Aug 18.

Only those buying food and supplies and going to work will be allowed to leave their homes.

Quarantine passes will again be required, and non-essential businesses that were allowed to reopen recently, such as barbershops and salons, may have to shut down.

Churches have already announced that they will again close their doors.

"We're doing our very best. Sorry, Manila," said Mr Duterte.

But he balked at putting Metro Manila back on hard lockdown.

"We don't have money anymore. I cannot give food and money anymore to the people," he said.

Mr Duterte lifted on June 1 a sweeping, two-month lockdown enforced around Metro Manila, as he sought to walk the fine line between protecting the country's more than 107 million people from Covid-19 while reviving the economy facing its biggest contraction in more than three decades.

After easing the lockdown, more factories and offices were allowed to restart their operations. Malls re-opened, and restaurants again welcomed diners.

Trains, buses, taxis, ride-sharing services and motorised rickshaws were back on the road.

In past weeks, churches were again holding masses.

Recently, gyms, Internet cafes, tutorial and review centres, pet clinics and drive-in cinemas were also allowed to reopen.

The government required the wearing of masks, and enforced social distancing rules.

Still, cases of Covid-19 spiked.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported 5,032 additional cases, its largest single-day increase on record, taking the country's confirmed cases to 103,185.

That followed three straight days of record increases.

Since the lockdown was lifted, the country has recorded close to 75,000 cases.

The Philippines, with its current rate of infections, is forecast to overtake Indonesia this week in terms of total cases, making it South-east Asia's new epicentre of the pandemic.

With cases continuing to soar, 80 groups representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses on Saturday (Aug 1) said the Philippines was losing the fight against the disease.

"The health sector cannot hold the line for much longer," they said in a letter to Mr Duterte.

"We are waging a losing battle against Covid-19, and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action," they said.

They called for a two-week "timeout", so that the government and the health sector could draw up a better plan.

The ones in place were not working, they insisted.

"Our healthcare system has been overwhelmed," they said, adding that many doctors and nurses were resigning "because of fear, fatigue, and poor working conditions".

Addressing them, Mr Duterte said: "We are aware that you are tired. But we don't have anywhere else to go. You were the ones who have the education, the know-how. You tell us about your agony, and you tell us you're ready to quit. I plead with you, 'Please don't'. Our countrymen need you."

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