Coronavirus outbreak

Duterte places Metro Manila under lockdown to contain viral spread

Shoppers endured long queues at checkout counters in groceries and supermarkets in Manila yesterday as word that a lockdown would be enforced set off panic buying across Metro Manila. Shelves were emptied quickly, with sanitisers, disinfectants, rice
Shoppers endured long queues at checkout counters in groceries and supermarkets in Manila yesterday as word that a lockdown would be enforced set off panic buying across Metro Manila. Shelves were emptied quickly, with sanitisers, disinfectants, rice and cooking oil among the most sought-after items.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

President Rodrigo Duterte placed Metropolitan Manila under lockdown yesterday, in a forceful attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"The crisis is very, very clear. (The virus) is spreading all throughout the country," he said after meeting an inter-agency task force dealing with the outbreak.

He said he had approved the task force's recommendation to suspend "land, domestic air and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila" from Sunday till April 14.

"Then we'll see if there's a slowdown in the contagion," he said.

Metro Manila spans 16 cities and a town, and is home to over 13 million.

Mr Duterte said he had been advised to refrain from using the word "lockdown" and the entire region was now on "community quarantine".

"But it's a lockdown," he said.

Insisting there was nothing to fear from such a measure, he said: "This is not martial law. It's not even something extraordinary… It's just an issue of protecting public interest and public health."

This comes as the health ministry announced that it had tallied three more cases of Covid-19, for a total of confirmed cases in the country of 52. It also announced that three more people had died in the past two days, bringing the total number of deaths to five.

The resolution signed by Mr Duterte enforcing the lockdown was scant on details, but the Department of Finance said it did not cover the flow of goods and trade to Metro Manila.

It is unclear how it will affect those working in Metro Manila but live in surrounding suburbs. Police have already laid out plans to deploy personnel along key roads and highways, and at airports and harbours to enforce the lockdown.

The resolution stipulated other measures. Districts where there are two or more confirmed cases of infections will be under quarantine. This could be scaled up to cover entire cities if the infections are widespread.

Private companies were instructed to enforce flexible work arrangements such as work-from-home arrangements or four-day work weeks.

Mass gatherings will be prohibited and classes at all levels suspended till April 12.

All day, word that a lockdown would be enforced set off panic buying across Metro Manila.

Groceries and supermarkets were packed, and shoppers endured queues that lasted at least an hour.

Shelves were emptied quickly, with rubbing alcohol, hand sanitisers, disinfectants, rice, canned goods, meat products and cooking oil among the most sought-after items.

Earlier in the day, top officials went on self-quarantine and key government offices shut their doors as more cases of the coronavirus surfaced and unease over undetected community spread continued to percolate.

The Senate, as well as the finance and education ministries, the central bank, economic planning and telecommunication agencies, and parts of a compound where Mr Duterte holds office were all either on lockdown or "restricted access".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2020, with the headline 'Duterte places Metro Manila under lockdown to contain viral spread'. Subscribe