Philippines: No Nationwide Lockdown despite Spike in COVID-19 Cases

Basilio Sepe
Philippines: No Nationwide Lockdown despite Spike in COVID-19 Cases A worker disinfects a Manila village as the Philippine capital marks the one-year anniversary of a community quarantine to fight the spread of COVID-19, March 15, 2021.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The Philippine government on Tuesday acknowledged a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country, with more than 24,000 new infections over the past five days, but stressed that decisions to impose lockdowns would be left to local governments.

The health department reported 4,437 infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 631,320. It also recorded 11 deaths, bringing the toll to 12,848. 

“To those who said we need to impose a lockdown, the truth is we have granular localized lockdowns. We use a lockdown as an instrument to slow the spread … in a place where there is a high number of cases,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual news conference.

On Monday, Roque announced that he had contracted the coronavirus.

“Right now there appears to be no need to declare an ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] because our hospitals have not been overwhelmed, we haven’t reached the ‘yellow’ line. So we are not yet in a critical situation because we can attend to those who are getting sick.”

While some hospitals are at full capacity, a hospital command center is able to direct patients elsewhere, Roque said.

Daily infections totaled 4,578 on Friday, 5,000 on Saturday, 4,899 on Sunday and 5,404 on Monday, the one-year anniversary of a nearly nationwide lockdown that was in place for two months.

The Philippines recorded its highest number of infections to date, 6,968, on Aug. 10, 2020.

“We are nearing the peak that we saw last August, and it’s possible that we may surpass that number if we can’t bring down the number of COVID-19 infections,” Roque said.He said the national government has been allowing local governments, including Manila and nearby provinces, to decide whether they would declare “granular lockdowns” similar to what authorities in Hong Kong have been doing when they close certain districts or neighborhoods.In Manila, government officials have mandated that youths under 18 must not leave their residences for two weeks beginning on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

In Pasay, a city in Metro Manila, authorities had arrested nearly 450 curfew violators as of Tuesday, after extending overnight curfew hours on March 12 and intensifying enforcement of health protocols, the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported.

A woman walks past a Manila hospital displaying a sign reading “Full Capacity for COVID-19 Cases,” March 15, 2021. [Basilio Sepe/BenarNews]

Vaccine commitments

The Philippine government, which began vaccinations this month, has received 1.12 million doses of vaccine, from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac and British-Swedish company AstraZeneca.

As of Tuesday, 215,997 individuals had received shots, the government said. The country’s population is close to 110 million.

To date, the Philippines has secured commitments for fewer than 18 million doses of vaccine. Neighboring Indonesia, by contrast, has received commitments for more than 400 million doses.

On Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte sought to assure the nation that more vaccines would arrive soon. 

“We still don’t have excess vaccines. This means that nothing has arrived, except those donated,” he said. “I will just say to my countrymen that do not despair. We can deal with this COVID.”

He also sought to downplay the impact of the coronavirus, saying that it was a “small thing in our lives,” as he urged people to not lose hope.

The government official in charge of procuring COVID-19 vaccines, retired Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., has said 1.4 million doses of Sinovac vaccines and about 1 million more from AstraZeneca were expected by April. 

On Tuesday, Galvez offered an explanation for the rise in infections.

“When the people found out that the vaccines are arriving, we noticed they have relaxed,” he told reporters during a virtual news conference.

Richel V. Umel and Froilan Gallardo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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