Luzon under enhanced quarantine

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    DOING a Wuhan lockdown, Philippine-version.

    President Duterte placed the whole of Luzon under an “enhanced community quarantine” effective last midnight until midnight of April 12, Easter Sunday, as government health experts struggle to contain the rapidly spreading Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) that has claimed at least 12 lives and affected 142 Filipinos in the country.

    “I am placing the entire mainland of Luzon under quarantine until April 12, 2020 coinciding with the entire end of the Holy Week. Let me make myself clear, this is not martial law,” the President said in a televised address.

    Under an enhanced community quarantine setting, “strict home quarantine shall be implemented in all households; transportation shall be suspended; provision for food and essential health services shall be regulated; and heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures will be implemented.”

    Duterte last Thursday put Metro Manila under “community quarantine” from March 15 to April 14 and ordered the adoption of stringent social distancing measures to prevent the further spread of the virus.

    The President made the decision during a three-hour meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease held in Malacañang on Monday afternoon.

    The President, in declaring the enhanced community quarantine, said the public should not belittle the coronavirus disease as “it is really dangerous now.”

    Duterte called for bayanihan, the public’s support and understanding, as well as prayers for everyone involved in the campaign against the COVD-19 like frontline workers led by doctors, nurse and health workers.

    He also asked everyone to contribute what they can, including the rich and the employers who can help cushion the impact of the quarantine on the public.

    The President said business owners can advance the release of their employees’ 13th month pay or half of the monthly salary of their employees; impose a moratorium on rental fees for renters and tenants; give a one month reprieve on bills payments from basic utility providers; and for big businesses to help small and medium scale enterprises.

    The tougher quarantine declaration means strict home confinement in all households, suspended transportation lines, regulated provision for food and essential health services, and heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce isolation procedures.

    Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, in a briefing after the President’s public address, announced mass and public transportation will be suspended starting midnight of March 17 in connection with the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon.

    Mass transportation refers to the Mass Rail Transit III, Light Railway Transit lines, passenger buses and passenger jeepneys.

    Nograles said domestic land, sea and air travel to and from the provinces of Luzon will be suspended, but outbound and inbound international travels from any ports in Luzon will be allowed. However, those who will be traveling for abroad from Luzon airports only have 72 hours to leave the country.

    Movement of cargoes within, to and from the entire Luzon shall remain unhampered.

    Other announcements include: classes and all school activities in all levels shall continue to be suspended until 14 April and shall resume on 15 April; mass gatherings shall be prohibited; a strict home quarantine shall be observed in all households including the limiting of movement to accessing basic necessities and the regulation of provision for food and essential health; work from home arrangement shall be implemented in the executive branch, except the PNP, AFP, PCG, and health and emergency frontline services, border control and other critical services, which shall ensure a skeletal work force; and private establishments providing basic necessities and such activities related to food and medicine production shall be open.

    Nograles said business process outsourcing establishments and export-oriented industries shall remain operational but subject to the condition that strict social distancing measures are observed and their personnel are provided appropriate temporary accommodation arrangements by March 18.

    He said media personnel are also allowed to travel within the quarantine area, provided that they secure identification card from the Presidential Communications Operations Office within 72 hours.

    The Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Labor and Employment (DOLE) shall formulate programs, projects and measures for the social amelioration of affected workers and residents of the area subject of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.

    STABLE SUPPLY

    Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez assured the public the enhanced quarantine will not cut off access to basic necessities such as food.

    Lopez, in a text message to reporters, said supermarkets, drugstores, banks and clinics and even carinderias will still be open while utilities like water, electricity and information technology will continue to be available from providers.

    He said the supply chain on basic goods from sources in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors will be allowed unhampered.

    Lopez said business process outsourcing companies will continue to operate but employees shall be housed or will work from home effective March 18 for one month.

    Exporters will also continue manufacturing with skeletal workforce housed in plants, also effective starting March 18.

    The government’s economic team will roll out a P27.1-billion package of priority actions to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide economic relief to those affected by the slowdown in economic activity.

    Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who chairs the Duterte Cabinet’s Economic Development Cluster (EDC), said the package will ensure that funding is available for the efforts of the Department of Health (DOH) to contain the spread of COVID-19, and will provide economic relief to those whose businesses and livelihoods have been affected by the spread of the disease.

    The fiscal support package includes the mobilization of an additional P3.1 billion from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and the Asian Development Bank to contribute directly to efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including the acquisition of test kits.

    Also part of the package are various programs and projects of the Department of Tourism amounting to P14 billion from the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority to support the tourism industry; and P2.8 billion for the Survival and Recovery Aid Program of the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC), which provides loans of up to P25,000 each at zero interest for smallholder farmers and fisherfolk affected by calamity and disasters.

    The initiative includes a one-year moratorium without interest on payments of outstanding loan obligations of small farmers and fisherfolk borrowers under the ACPC Credit Program amounting to P2.03 billion.

    Lastly, P1 billion will be allotted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for its Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-Asenso Microfinancing special loan package of the Small Business Corp. for affected micro entrepreneurs/micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). – With Irma Isip and Angela Celis