Philippine president to extend COVID-19 lockdown beyond nine weeks

MANILA: The Philippines will extend its lockdown beyond nine weeks in “some areas” this weekend, according to its president, stretching one of the world’s strictest and longest community quarantines to try to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

That would buck a global trend of easing lockdowns as countries try to strike a balance between containment and restoring some normalcy to limit economic damage.

President Rodrigo Duterte mentioned the extension during a meeting with his COVID-19 task force that was aired on state television on Tuesday (May 12) morning, but did not specify where the lockdown would be eased or maintained, and for how long.

A detailed announcement was expected later on Tuesday.

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An extension of another two weeks in the capital, Manila, would stretch containment measures to 11 weeks, or 80 days, longer than the 76-day quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the global epicentre of the virus.

The Philippines has recorded more than 11,000 coronavirus infections and 726 deaths. But it has only tested 158,000 people so far – many fewer than other countries – making it tricky to gauge the full extent of the spread. Infections have been steady in recent weeks at 150 to 300 a day with increased testing.

Duterte said measures would be eased in some places but urged vigilance and said a wearing of masks was “a must-comply”.

“For those who would be allowed to go out and work and for those not, remember that the easing up of the restrictions, this is not to say COVID is no more,” he said at the meeting. “We cannot afford a second or third wave to happen.”

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Complicating decision-making is a consumption-driven economy now racing towards recession due to a lockdown that curtailed spending and slammed the brakes on two decades of uninterrupted growth in the first quarter, which shrank to 0.2 per cent compared with a year earlier.

That was far short of economists’ forecasts of a 3.1 per cent expansion.

Greater Manila, a crowded city of at least 13 million people and millions of informal residents, remains the epicentre of infections, with 64 per cent of the nation’s confirmed cases and 72 per cent of its deaths.

The lockdown in Manila and other major cities mandates home quarantine, social distancing, curbs on transport, immigration and outdoor exercise, and limits movement to workers in essential sectors and one person per household for visits to supermarkets, pharmacies or clinics.

The Philippines was one of the first countries to ban flights to and from China after three Chinese visitors tested positive, and it was the third country after China and Italy to order home quarantine, even though it had only a fraction of the cases reported elsewhere.

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