MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Philippine authorities on Thursday placed Metro Manila under quarantine, halting travel in and out of the capital region for a month from March 15 until April 14, 2020, amid the continuing rise in cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This as government also raised the response alert level to Code Red, Sub-level 2, which health officials earlier explained to mean "sustained community transmission," with patients contracting the disease locally.
President Rodrigo Duterte made the announcement on Thursday night, following an urgent meeting with the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 response. The level was raised less than a week since Code Red, Sub-level 1 was declared on Saturday.
"Community quarantine is hereby imposed in the entirety of Metro Manila," said Duterte.
“It’s a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here…It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” Duterte said.
Duterte said land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from Metro Manila will be prohibited during the period.
The suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila, which started March 10, will be extended until April 12, 2020.
"It's subject again for review day to day, tingnan namin nangyayari (we'll look at what will happen), if there is a slowdown in the contagion," he said.
"Hindi ito martial law. It is not a martial law. It is not even something extraordinary. But what is sought to be solved here is the again, walang iba except to fight the virus, and to exact compliance," he said.
Train systems- the LRT, MRT lines and PNR- and other forms of mass transportation will remain in operation throughout the quarantine period, Duterte said.
But the transportation department will issue guidelines on “social distancing,” a crucial strategy to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading further, read a resolution crafted by the interagency task force, a copy of which ABS-CBN News obtained.
Flexible work arrangements are encouraged in the private sector, "following guidelines from the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade and Industry designed to safeguard the welfare of the workers," a Palace statement said.
"All manufacturing, retail and service establishments shall remain in operation during the same period, provided that strict social distancing measures are observed," it said.
The President said he would "maybe convert" the resolution into an Executive Order.
Duterte said work in all government agencies under the executive branch, except for health and emergency workers, is suspended. Offices were also told to put up skeletal workforces.
"Mass gatherings, defined as a planned or spontaneous event, where the number of people attending could strain the planning and response resources of the community hosting the event, shall be prohibited during said period," the President said, reading from the resolution.
He called on the public to cooperate with the restrictions.
"'Wag kayong matakot, 'wag kayong manerbyos pero wala pang mga antidote ito. It would only come in the form of a vaccine," Duterte said.
"Do not minimize it but do not kill yourself with worry because government is doing everything possible to make it controllable," he said.
In barangays outside the capital region, barangay-wide quarantine is advised when there are at least 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The country has confirmed 52 cases of the virus, with two deaths.
The outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed some 4,000 people and infected 110,000 others worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global pandemic.
China earlier quarantined its entire Hubei province, a move health experts believe was instrumental in controlling the spread of COVID-19.
More recently, the whole of Italy was locked down as the death toll due to the virus soared to more than 800 as of Thursday.
- with a report from Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News