The Philippines is reimposing strict lockdowns, which is expected to affect 13 million people, beginning August 6 until August 20. The lockdown, which includes the capital city of Manila and nearby cities, aims to prevent a possible surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the delta variant that could overwhelm hospitals in the nation.
Harry Roque, the government spokesperson, announced the reinstatement of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in a televised address on July 30. He said that the decision to go back into lockdown was “painful” but that it had to be done to limit the more transmissible nature of the delta variant.
“This is a painful decision because we know ECQ is difficult, but we need to do this to avoid a shortage of our ICU beds and other hospital requirements, if cases balloon because of the Delta variant,” Roque said. “In the end, what everyone put in mind was we needed to come up with this difficult situation so that more lives would be saved.”
Local transmission of the variant was confirmed last July 22, and on the 29th, 97 more cases were reported, bringing the total to 216. (Related: New, more transmissible coronavirus variant from the Philippines detected in the UK.)
The OCTA research group urged the government to place Metro Manila in lockdown to curb the virus infections in the country’s capital. Dr. Guido David, an OCTA research fellow, said, “We recommended a stricter quarantine because if we can beat this, we should be okay.”
“My feeling is we should be ok until the end of the year and until next year because we will have more people vaccinated and we will have booster shots available in case some people are worried that the virus may come back,” he added.
The schedule of the new restrictions began with a general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened additional restrictions from July 30 to August 5 and an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) from August 6 to 20.
The stricter GCQ period prohibits restaurant dining, although take-out and deliveries are allowed. Personal care establishments and outdoor tourism attractions can operate at 30 percent capacity, and only authorized persons can travel outside Metro Manila.
For ECQ, this means that only essential establishments and industries will be allowed to operate, such as hospitals, groceries, couriers and delivery services, manufacturing firms and business process outsourcing.
Other establishments such as banks, telecommunications, dental and other medical clinics, water and sanitation services and legal services can operate with a skeletal workforce. Public transportation will be suspended or limited.
The lockdowns impede on the freedom of individuals, especially in democratic countries like the Philippines. Since the outbreak began, conditions for democracy and human rights have grown worse in many countries, and reports point to cases where governments used COVID-19 as a pretext to marginalize minority groups, shut down the opposition, and control information.
This is certainly the case when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a TV network shutdown during the pandemic in May 2020, sparking uproar. Police were among the most visible front liners during a health crisis, enforcing curfew and social distancing policies. Protesters and critics, despite practicing social distancing, were dispersed and arrested with the police wearing full battle gear. Cases of police brutality surfaced. Violators were locked in dog cages while others were made to sit under the sun.
These developments illustrate the reach of authoritarian practice during Duterte’s reign, curtailing freedom of the people and the possibility for government accountability in what is supposed to be a democratic society during the biggest health crisis in recent times.
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