MANILA (UPDATE)- The Philippines extended the lockdown of millions in its most populous island to April 30 to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), its pandemic response task force said Tuesday.
President Rodrigo Duterte late Monday accepted the recommendation to prolong the Luzon quarantine, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesman of the Inter-Agency Task Force. The lockdown was originally intended until April 12.
The extension would buy the government enough time to improve its public health response, and to prepare for a "new normal," Nograles said.
"Kailangan natin ng extension up to April 30 para lubos pa nating mapag-aralan ang COVID-19 na disease na ito," he said in a virtual press briefing.
(We need to extend the lockdown until April 30 so that we can further study COVID-19.)
With the extension, people are required to stay at home further to avoid transmission of the disease, he said. All the prevailing rules and exemptions during the initial lockdown of Luzon will continue, Nograles said.
The Philippines is eyeing to delay the "peak" of its COVID-19 fight or the "worst-case scenario" to 2021 in the hopes that medical experts could find a vaccine for the disease by that time, Nograles said.
For now, the government is eyeing to start massive COVID-19 testing by April 14 as it fast-tracks the accreditation of more laboratories with coronavirus testing capability. The Philippines has 10 accredited COVID-19 testing centers as of Monday.
The country has struggled with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, and the inadequate number of test kits and laboratories that are able to run tests at the onset of the pandemic.
The initial backlog in cases resulted in a number of patients dying before learning of their test results.
Nograles said the government would use the extension to increase the country's testing capacity to around 20,000 per day with a 24-hour turnaround time for test results by the end of April.
"Kailangan mabilis po natin ang pagbigay ng result ng test. We need to have a 24-hour turnaround time," he said.
(Test results should be given quickly.)
Convention centers have also been converted into quarantine facilities as part of the government's segregation system to isolate patients who will test positive for COVID-19 and patients under investigation (PUIs).
It is also looking at ships and hotels as alternative quarantine sites, as more hospitals become overwhelmed with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
As of Monday, there are 3,660 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
VISAYAS, MINDANAO UNDER MONITORING
The Cabinet official said it was unnecessary to expand the lockdown to Visayas and Mindanao even as some provinces already imposed local community quarantines.
"Right now, wala pang need. There's no need for an enhanced community quarantine in Visayas and Mindanao pero tuloy-tuloy po ang pag-monitor nito," Nograles said.
The Philippines is in a state of public health emergency and calamity over COVID-19 that has spread out of its origin, China, to nearly 200 countries and territories since it was first detected late last year.
Over 60,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 and there are more than a million confirmed cases with the outbreak yet to reach its peak across the developed and emerging world.