Philippines declares night curfew in Manila to fight virus

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — Philippine officials yesterday announced a night curfew in the capital and said millions of people in the densely populated region should leave their homes during the daytime only for work or urgent errands under restrictions imposed to fight the COVID-19.

Drastic steps announced by President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday sparked widespread confusion and questions, prompting officials yesterday to detail the measures and issue guidelines for the month-long restrictions in Manila that will take effect today.

The measures involve suspending domestic travel by land, air and sea to and from the capital region, home to more than 12 million people. Large gatherings like concerts and movies will be prohibited and most government work in executive department offices will be suspended in the metropolis. Suspensions of school classes at all levels were extended by a month.

A copy of the guidelines said the movement of people in the metropolis “shall be limited to accessing basic necessities and work”.

“If you’ll go to work, go. If you need to go out for medical treatment, go. If you’ll buy food, go, but other than that, stay home,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano told a news conference. “We should practise social distancing.”

Philippine health officials reported 34 new cases of COVID-19 infections yesterday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 98. Eight of the patients have died.

While the virus can be deadly, particularly for the elderly and people with other health problems, for most people it causes only mild symptoms.

Some feel no symptoms at all and the vast majority of people recover.

Ano said the 8pm-5am curfew, which was not among the restrictions announced by Duterte, would apply to non-essential trips and leisure gatherings like parties, family reunions and concerts. Stressing the urgency of the move, he cited the case of Italy, where he said the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths alarmingly spiked because effective containment steps were not put in place early.

Ano warned that infections may exponentially increase to several thousands in five months in the Philippines if effective containment actions are not set in place. He told The Associated Press that it’s one of the worst-case scenarios drawn up by the government along with World Health Organization (WHO) experts.

A Manila official, Jojo Garcia, said shopping malls would also be asked to temporarily close, except for grocery stores and supermarkets. “In this time, who will go shopping for a new pair of shoes?” Garcia said.

The temporary restrictions will not amount to a lockdown of the capital because large numbers of workers, emergency personnel like medical staff and residents on urgent errands could move within the metropolis or enter and leave the area after showing valid IDs, officials said.

Movement of cargo and food shipments will continue unhampered, they said.

Metropolitan Manila Police Chief Major General Debold Sinas has threatened to arrest people who don’t comply with the restrictions. Thousands of police will be deployed and checkpoints will be set up in entryways to metropolitan Manila, he said.

But a prominent human rights lawyer, Jose Manuel Diokno, said law enforcers could not arrest anyone for resisting emergency health restrictions. Under Philippine law, police can arrest people without a warrant only if they have committed or are about to commit a crime, Diokno said.

The 74-year-old Duterte himself was tested for the virus on Thursday after he met Cabinet officials, who said they were exposed to people who tested positive for the COVID-19. Duterte tested negative, according to his spokesman.

A worker arranges stocks of rice at a grocery store in Taguig, metropolitan Manila, Philippines. PHOTO: AP