Duterte Deploys Philippine Police to Patrol COVID Quarantine Hotels

Jojo Riñoza and Basilio Sepe
Duterte Deploys Philippine Police to Patrol COVID Quarantine Hotels Filipinos wait to receive a COVID-19 booster vaccine in Makati City, Metro Manila, Jan. 5, 2022.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police to be deployed to hundreds of hotels and other COVID-19 quarantine sites in Metro Manila after a hotel guest who had arrived from the United States skipped isolation and tested positive following her return three days later.

Duterte, who said hotels are not adequately equipped to enforce quarantine measures, ordered the interior department to assign police officers in shifts to prevent such incidents from happening again.

“The police can guard hotels, and if they [guests] insist on going out, there will be a ruckus,” Duterte said during his nationally televised meeting with cabinet officials which aired late Tuesday.

“Two policemen are assigned to quarantine hotels and they have to be mindful of their duty to advise the person,” Duterte said. “They have the power to arrest them, no doubt about it.”

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Catholic Church leaders again canceled the annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a festival that can draw more than 1 million devotees, because of the pandemic.

Following Duterte’s address, presidential aides on Wednesday said at least two officers would be assigned to nearly 300 quarantine facilities and hotels in Metro Manila while additional officers are expected to be deployed later across the country.

Duterte’s order came after the tourism department suspended Berjaya Makati Hotel because a guest broke quarantine rules. 

The tourism department identified the guest as Gwyneth Chua, a Filipina, who left the hotel on Dec. 22, returned on Christmas Day and tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 26. The department said the woman was spotted on since-deleted social media posts at a bar in a party district.

Berjaya staff said Chua, who was to quarantine until Dec. 27 following her arrival, left the hotel 15 minutes after checking in, according to the tourism department.

“Neither did the hotel security personnel nor the front lobby call attention to her, and neither was there any effort to report the incident to the Bureau of Quarantine even after her return three days later,” it said in a news release. 

Philippine media reported police filed complaints against Chua, her parents, a friend and five hotel staffers over the incident. The media also noted that some of Chua’s contacts have tested positive for COVID-19 as well.

The hotel, which publicly apologized for the incident, was fined the equivalent of twice its most expensive room rate and has been suspended as an accredited hotel, meaning it no longer has a license to operate pending resolution of the case, according to the tourism department.

The hotel has 15 working days to appeal the decision, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported.

In calling for the police presence, Duterte said hotel owners and staff cannot be in a “position to legally stop” hotel guests from breaking quarantine protocols.

“The hotel owners or whoever is working there cannot be tasked with the burden of enforcing the rules of quarantine because only the government can enforce it,” he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, cited a law that empowers personnel in a quarantine mandated area.

The law prohibits acts that include “non-cooperation of persons and entities that should report or respond to notifiable diseases or health events of public concern,” Guevarra said.

10,775 infections

The Philippines recorded 10,775 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the Department of Health, nearly double the 5,434 infections a day earlier. The last time the country recorded more daily cases – 12,159 – was on Oct. 10. More recently, the Philippines posted just 22 infections on Dec. 19. 

The health department recorded 58 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the toll to 51,662 since the pandemic began. In addition, the country has confirmed more than 2.87 million COVID-19 cases, second only to Indonesia in the region.

“The spike resulted from the increase in movement and social mixing over the holiday period. The DOH also earlier attributed the increase to the possibility of the local spread of the Omicron variant,” the health department said.

Earlier this week, authorities expanded COVID-19 restrictions in Metro Manila and provinces surrounding the capital region because of the spike.

Devotees surround the carriage of the Black Nazarene during the annual procession in Manila, Jan. 9, 2020. [AP]

Black Nazarene procession canceled

On Wednesday, Catholic Church leaders canceled the annual procession of the Black Nazarene, a wooden statue of Jesus Christ, after local health officials and the World Health Organization expressed concern it could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The procession was scheduled for Jan. 9.

The Black Nazarene was carved and brought to the Philippines in 1606 when it was a Spanish colony. The procession called Traslacion, one of the country’s largest religious festivals, typically draws more than 1 million barefoot Catholic devotees of the black wooden statue, believed to be miraculous, to walk through the streets of Manila.

The government’s task force on COVID-19 also ordered the Quiapo Church, home of the Black Nazarene, to be closed this week and for masses to be aired online instead.

“We have witnessed this past holiday season how fast, how rapid the rise has been of COVID-19 because of social gatherings,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We would like to remind everyone to be vigilant and continue practicing the necessary health protocols amid the impending threat of the Omicron variant and the continued rise in cases these past days. In light of these, we are calling for a suspension of all mass gatherings.

“Our alarming situation calls for safer ways to celebrate traditions. We appeal to devotees – please stay at home to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. Doing so is an act of kindness. We need to protect each other, especially our elderly and those with underlying medical conditions,” he said.


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