Philippine president Duterte extends lockdown; mulls on martial law


The Philippine government has extended the strict lockdown measures across several parts of the country, including capital Manila, until May 15 in an attempt to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In a televised address on Friday, April 24, President Rodrigo Duterte announced that everyone was at risk but the probability of getting infected with the virus should not be increased.

Duterte took the decision of extending the lockdown in several regions of the country upon recommendation of a group of experts on the COVID-19 response, as they warned that lifting the restrictions so soon could lead to a second wave of infections.

Philippine Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told reporters on Thursday (April 23) infection, fatality and hospitalisation rates seemed to be plateauing.

But when asked if that warranted lifting the lockdown altogether, she replied: “We’re not there yet. We have not yet reached that point wherein we can say we have already flattened the curve.”

The Health Ministry reported 211 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total in the Philippines to 7,192. So far, 477 have died and 762 have survived.

Mr. Duterte on Friday chafed at what he perceived to be repeated violations of the government’s shutdown restrictions, saying these were preventing the government from getting the outbreak under control.

Earlier, Duterte had ordered police officers to shoot those who violate the strict quarantine imposed in the country over the deadly virus.

He heaped particular scorn on Maoist rebels, accusing them of  ambushing soldiers and policemen escorting health workers and relief supplies.

“I might declare martial law, and there will be no turning back… I have two more years. I will try to finish you all,” he warned.

Mr. Duterte has also widened the lockdown’s ambit to other densely populated areas outside Luzon.

It now includes the islands of Cebu and Panay, in the central Philippines, and the Davao region, in the south, including Mr. Duterte’s home turf, Davao City. Cases of infections in these regions range from about a dozen to over 100.

Apart from Metro Manila, 17 provinces in Luzon will remain in lockdown. All are deemed “high-risk” areas. Metro Manila accounts for three out of every five confirmed patients for COVID-19.

For the rest of Luzon, where cases of infections were few or none at all, quarantine restrictions have been eased.

On March 16, Duterte ordered strict quarantine measures for the entire island of Luzon – the biggest and most populous in the country with 57 million inhabitants, including the capital Manila – until April 12.

Luzon has been effectively shut off from the rest of the sprawling archipelago and the world since mid-March.

All domestic flights and sea travel, except for those transporting essential goods, have been suspended.

Companies have wound down operations and sent their workers home, except for those providing food and medicine, utilities, banks, telcos and logistics firms.

A web of checkpoints and barricades manned by the military and police across Luzon is making sure everyone stays put. (Source: The Straits Times)