With the alarming rise of local COVID-19 cases, President Rodrigo Duterte made a public address yesterday, March 12, announcing a new set of guidelines in a bid to contain the viral outbreak, which has officially infected more than 50 people in the country and claimed five lives. Duterte also announced that the alert status for the disease is now at Code Red Sublevel 2, allowing authorities to place Metro Manila under “community quarantine”.
The guidelines, formally named Resolution No. 11 by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases, covers a period of 30 days from March 15 until April 14, intended to contain the disease from spreading further.
Work, class suspensions
Faced with the possibility of further transmission, Duterte announced an extension of the suspension of classes starting March 15 until April 12, covering all levels of Metro Manila schools. Duterte previously ordered class suspensions in Metro Manila from March 10 to March 14. Several Metro Manila mayors had also called off classes in their cities earlier in the week, fearing the spread of the virus.
Despite the suspension, Resolution No. 11 stipulated that students “shall continue to fulfill” their educational requirements. Local Government Units (LGUs) outside the National Capital Region (NCR), meanwhile, are asked to “exercise sound discretion” in deciding to postpone classes.
Further, these LGUs are advised to announce barangay-wide, municipality-wide, or province-wide quarantines if at least two positive cases of COVID-19 arise in their respective jurisdictions.
Work in government offices will also be suspended under the period stated by the resolution, but skeleton crews will remain to keep government agencies running. Only health and emergency services will remain in full operation.
Likewise, private enterprises were asked to keep their operations running and provide flexible work arrangements for their employees. Duterte added that the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry “shall issue guidelines” regarding the developing situation, including guidelines for social distancing.
Land, air, and sea travel into and out of the NCR will be placed on hold starting on March 15 and ending on April 14, as the region is placed under a quarantine. Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año later clarified that those Metro Manila employees living outside the region will be allowed to travel through checkpoints as long they can present a company ID or documented proof that they work in Metro Manila.
Public transport in the NCR, including the rail systems, were also asked to maintain operations but with the same social distancing measures to be observed. “Mass public transports, including the Light Railway Transit, the Metro Rail Transit, and the Philippine National Railways, shall continue in operation,” Duterte said.
Travelers from any country with localized COVID-19 transmissions are also now restricted from entering the Philippines, though Filipino citizens—along with their foreign spouses and children—permanent residents, and diplomats, are exempted from these restrictions.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) will still be allowed to travel to mainland China, with the exception of the Hubei province, the epicenter of the global pandemic. The OFWs must sign a declaration stating that they are aware of the risks posed by their travel and must receive health advisory pamphlets from the Department of Health before they depart.
Mass gatherings, including “meetings” or “rallies”, are also banned during the period over the concern that they could prove to be breeding grounds for transmission.
With the heavy involvement of police officials and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel, Duterte repeatedly tried to allay fears of “martial law”, explaining that it is part of the effort to “keep the country in order”.
“Huwag kayong matakot sa sundalo; sundalo niyo iyan. Ang Armed Forces [are] there to serve you,” Duterte declared.
(Do not be afraid of the soldiers; they are your soldiers. The Armed Forces [are] there to serve you.)
Duterte also extended his thanks to Chinese President Xi Jinping for his “goodness” and offers of help.
As of press time, the DLSU administration has announced that online classes will continue to be held through AnimoSpace amid the suspension of classes at the Manila campus. In addition, a skeletal workforce will remain in the University for essential work.
Although the University has set guidelines for suspensions of classes, the rules are unclear for interruptions over extended periods of time. Work and classes in DLSU were already held off since Monday evening, March 9, following Mayor Isko Moreno’s earlier directive to suspend classes in Manila City until Sunday, March 15.