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Luzon community quarantine: It’s not just wider in coverage

By: March 17, 2020

(Special report)

In what appeared to be a bolder step in fighting the spread of novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) cases, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday (March 16) expanded the coverage of his previous declaration of a community quarantine in Metro Manila to include the entire island of Luzon.

It wasn’t only wider, but also more restrictive.

“Upon further study of worldwide trends and measures and the need for extreme caution during such times as these, I have come to the conclusion that stricter measures are necessary,” Duterte said in a televised address.

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The new quarantine order took effect midnight March 17 and will end midnight of April 13.

The government, however, would evaluate it on a daily basis and revise if needed.

“It could be shorter if the circumstances warrant,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles at a press briefing on Monday night.

“I don’t want to speculate but we can also say it could go longer depending on the situation,” he said. “That’s why it’s a day-to-day basis assessment,” he added.

As it is, however, some basic questions needed to be answered.

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What are the areas under Luzon?

Luzon covers eight of the 17 regions in the Philippines: Ilocos, Cagayan, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Cordillera Administrative Region and National Capital Region.

What is enhanced community quarantine and how it is different from general community quarantine initially declared by the Philippine government in Metro Manila?

Based on a memorandum issued by Malacanang, the enhanced community quarantine meant people staying at home, regulation of food and essential health services and increased visibility of uniformed personnel enforcing the quarantine order.

What are the travel restrictions and guidelines?

All mass public public transport facilities will be suspended. These included:

“We don’t want to open all public transportation because that would actually encourage people to move,” said Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano. “Our objective is restrict movement of people to the maximum. So we will adjust as we enforce this,” he said.

Because borders will be closed for a month, those intending to leave the Philippines may do so from any international airports from Luzon for a period of 72 hours after the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine. Beyond that, they’re stuck.

Inbound international passengers, who are already in transit after the effectivity of the new quarantine, shall be allowed entry but will be subjected to quarantine procedures if they’re arriving from countries with existing travel restrictions because of COVID-19.

(On Tuesday, the government said Filipinos could fly abroad, too.)

Filipino citizens, their spouses and children would be allowed entry but subject to quarantine procedures.

Inbound flights throughout the quarantine period will be limited to repatriation of Filipinos overseas.

Exempted from the travel restrictions whether by land, sea, or air, are uniformed personnel on official business, especially those transporting medical supplies, laboratory specimens related to COVID-19 and other humanitarian aid.

Only one person is allowed to leave home to buy basic necessities. Use of private vehicles is allowed.

“Only one should do the buying because, again the general rule is home quarantine, there would be no movement except for necessary industries and establishments and, of course, vital government services,” said Nograles.

What establishments are allowed to operate during this time?

The Palace said only private establishments providing basic necessities related to food and medicine shall be open. These include:

These establishments are required to adopt strict social distancing measures for workers.

Call centers or business process outsourcing companies and export-oriented industries will also remain operational but must observe strict social distancing measures for workers. Company owners should also provide appropriate temporary accommodation for workers who would be unable to shuttle back and forth from home to work because of transport restrictions.

What happens to those without private vehicles?

Those who have no private vehicles but need to buy basic necessities or go to work would have to walk or rely on the local government unit.

“If there’s no public transportation then private (car) or you’ll have to walk. The idea here is to keep everybody on home quarantine. We try not to dwell on the exemptions to the rule,” Nograles said.

Ano said local government units “will determine now the requirement and then LGUs can provide transportation.”

“We can also require some public utilities to operate certain numbers of vehicles…commensurate to those who will use,” he said.

Are there class and work suspensions?

Classes and school activities in all levels are suspended and will resume on April 15, 2020.

A work from home arrangement will be implemented in the Executive branch except for the Philippine National Police, Philippine Coast Guard, Armed Forces of the Philippines, health and emergency frontline workers, and border control, which should operate on a skeletal workforce.

How will social distancing work out in shanty towns?

Would social distancing work out in overcrowded areas like shanty towns? Ano admitted that it would be a major challenge that the LGU would have to address.

“That’s really a big challenge but they have to follow social distancing. Someone would be on roving there, village and LGU officials would patrol. We have to implement but it’s also up to their discipline, they have to follow,” he said.

“For example, in one household on quarantine and no one is infected there, they’ll be okay there,” he said.

If one manifests symptoms, that’s when barangay officials should step in.

“Our vilage governments would play a role, the village health emergency response teams would bring the person under monitoring or person under investigation to the isolation unit,” Ano said, speaking partly in Filipino. “So that’s where they come in,” he added.

What happens to violators of the enhanced community quarantine?

Failure to heed the guidelines and measures of the enhanced community quarantine will be met with punitive action, both criminal and administrative, but based on applicable laws and rules.

The Department of Justice would be tasked with filing appropriate charges.

Edited by TSB