By Martin Sadongdong, Jhon Aldrin Casinas, Argyll Geducos, Betheena Unite, Genalyn Kabiling, Roy Mabasa, and Jun Ramirez
Police began closing off access to the Philippines’ sprawling and densely populated Metro Manila on Sunday, imposing a quarantine that officials hope will curb the nation’s rising number of coronavirus cases.
Officers armed with rifles blocked off main roads into the Metro region of some 12 million as domestic flights to and from Manila were halted early Sunday for a month-long isolation of the capital.
Though the Philippines has had only a fraction of the infections seen in hot spots like China or Italy, its confirmed cases nearly doubled in recent days to 111, with 10 deaths.
“People are advised to stay home and not do anything,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told reporters Saturday.
Several concerns were raised on the first day of the implementation of the community quarantine in Metro Manila on Sunday as the national government continues to find solutions on how to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) around the country.
Concerns from the ground received by the Manila Bulletin include lack of thermal scanners in checkpoints, the supposedly changing rules on the implementation of the guidelines as to who are allowed to enter and leave Metro Manila, and the horrendous traffic that the checkpoints caused.
In particular, Philippine Army personnel manning the checkpoint in the boundary of Meycauayan, Bulacan, and Valenzuela City were found to have no working thermal scanners after the ones being used broke down before noon due to the volume of people being checked.
1st Lt. Arrianne Bicharra, spokesperson of the military’s Joint Task Force-National Capital Region (JTF-NCR), said they have already looked into the availability of thermal scanners in all checkpoints being manned by soldiers.
Curfew, mall closures
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso has imposed a curfew starting Monday, March 16, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. A city ordinance mandating the curfew will be published in newspapers of general circulation on Monday.
The Muntinlupa City Council also passed City Ordinance 2020-065 imposing curfew as part of the community quarantine starting Monday, March 16, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Makati City Mayor Abby Binay Campos announced that curfew will be imposed in the city starting on Monday, from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city rose to 14. Malls in Makati City will also temporarily close starting Monday. Restaurants will only open for take-out and delivery.
Ayala Malls and Robinsons Mall have also announced their temporary closure starting Monday.
Shopping malls in San Juan City will be temporarily closed starting Sunday, March 15, Mayor Francis Zamora said.
Owners of malls and landlords were urged by Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera and San Jose Del Monte City lone district Rep. Florida Robes to show compassion to their tenants by granting them discounts in their rental payment or rental holiday “to keep them afloat and ease their burden.”
ACT CIS partylist Rep. Niña Taduran sought a moratorium on the payment of debts, taxes, fees and utility bills of consumers which are due within the one-month community quarantine period in Metro Manila.
44 repatriates due back
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday said a total of 444 Filipino crewmembers and passengers of cruise ship M/VGrand Princess will be repatriated back to the Philippines via San Francisco.
Officers and staff of the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco were on the ground in Oakland on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to facilitate the repatriation process of the Filipinos composed of 438 crewmembers and six passengers of the cruise ship which was recently held off the coast of San Francisco after several individuals onboard had tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The repatriates are expected to arrive at the Haribon hangar in Clark City on Monday morning. Upon arrival, they will be transported on buses to the Athletes’ Village under the care of the Department of Health personnel.
From the total of 538 Filipino crewmembers and nine passengers onboard the Bahamas-flagged cruise ship, 13 of those were declared COVID-19 positive and were put in unspecified health facilities in the US.
Bear with the inconvenience
The public should make sacrifices and bear with the quarantine checks in Metro Manila for their own health and safety from the coronavirus threat, Malacañang said Sunday.
As government forces started to restrict the movement of people in and around Metro Manila, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo appealed to the people to cooperate with authorities in the implementation of the measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
“Kailangan konting magsakripisyo tayo (You know, we need to make little sacrifices),” he said.
Smooth 1st day of quarantine
Despite the concerns on the ground, the military official said the first day of the community quarantine in Metro Manila went “smoothly” despite reports that the checkpoints resulted in long queues of public utility vehicles and private cars wanting to enter and leave Metro Manila.
Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente announced the expansion of travel restrictions for arriving passengers from Iran and Italy starting March 16, 2020.
“Passengers coming from, or have transited through Iran and Italy in the last 14 days, shall be required to present a medical certificate issued by competent medical authorities within the last 48 hours prior to arrival in the country certifying that they are COVID-19 free,” Morente said.
Current travel restrictions for travelers coming from and going to China, Hong Kong, Macau, and North Gyeongsang, including Daegu and Cheongdo, are still in place.
Malacañang said that only three people can talk to the public about general policies and guidelines regarding the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak — President Duterte, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
DFA skeletal workforce
All consular offices in Metro Manila will be temporarily operating with a skeletal workforce and provide consular services only to individuals with urgent needs, such as overseas Filipino workers and those with medical cases, starting March 16 until April 14, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Saturday.
All the Consular Offices in Metro Manila – National Capital Region (NCR)-West, NCR-East, NCR-South, NCR-Northeast, NCR-Central, NCR-North, as well as its office in ASEANA Business Park in Parañaque City – will be operating under a skeletal workforce during the period of the community quarantine.
The Senate will cut short office work hours on Monday to give its employees ample time to return to their residences. (With reports from AFP, Charissa M. Luci-Atienza, Minka Klaudia S. Tiangco, Jonathan Hicap, and Hannah L. Torregoza)