MANILA- President Rodrigo Duterte called on Filipinos Thursday to take the threat of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak seriously as the government placed Metro Manila under community quarantine to control the spread of the disease that has claimed at least 4,000 lives worldwide.
In a public address, the President said Filipinos should not “minimize” the threat of the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms but also assured the public of the government’s efforts to control its spread.
“It’s a serious one. It is true. Huwag ninyong maliitin. Do not minimize it, I said, but do not kill yourself with worry because government is doing everything possible to make it at least controllable, but kung kayo po ay mag-cooperate,” he said in a soft tone, far from his earlier pronouncements on the virus outbreak.
“Let’s help each other. Delikado talaga, totoo ang crisis na ito kasi walang gamot,” he said.
Duterte made the announcement after meeting with the government’s inter-agency task force handling the country’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Prior to the meeting, the President was tested for COVID-19 as several of his top officials went on self-quarantine following close contact with a person who tested positive for the disease.
Among the precautionary measures that will be adopted by the government include a "lockdown" of Metro Manila beginning Sunday, and the extension of the class suspensions in the National Capital Region until April 12.
Duterte announced the restriction of travel—whether by land, sea, or domestic air—in and out of the National Capital Region starting Sunday until April 14 after health authorities declared the highest Code Red Sub-level 2 because of “sustained community transmission” of the virus.
“Community quarantine is hereby imposed in the entirety of Metro Manila," Duterte said.
“It’s a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here…It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19…Hindi ito martial law. This is not even something extraordinary,” he said.
Train lines namely the MRT, LRT, and PNR, as well as other forms of mass transportation will remain in operation throughout the “community quarantine” period.
But the transportation department will issue guidelines on “social distancing,” a crucial strategy to help prevent COVID-19 from spreading further.
During the lockdown period, the President said mass gatherings shall be prohibited to prevent the spread of the disease and urged the public to cooperate with the restrictions.
“‘Pag hindi kayo nag-cooperate, ah the problem would start and it would start with you and end with you pagka ganun. So ‘yung mga sinasabi na social distancing, sundin lang po ninyo,” he said.
The President also encouraged the private sector to adopt “work from home” schemes for the meantime.
EXTENDED CLASS SUSPENSION
Duterte also extended on Thursday the suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila up to April 12, urging students to stay put in their homes. He initially suspended classes from March 10 to 14.
“The suspension of classes in all levels in Metro Manila is hereby [extended] until April 12, 2020,” the President said.
Work in the executive department is also suspended but government offices must maintain “skeletal workforces” to allow the continuous delivery of services.
“Work in the executive department shall be suspended during this period. Walang trabaho, suspended sila,” the President said.
The Philippines has so far confirmed 52 cases of the disease which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
The spread of COVID-19, which has killed some 4,000 people and infected 110,000 others worldwide, has prompted President Duterte to declare a state of public health emergency in the Philippines
The World Health Organization is characterizing the outbreak of the new coronavirus as pandemic due to "the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction."