Manila completes a year in lockdown amid fresh surge in cases

Bangkok, Mar 15 (efe-epa).- Manila on Monday completed one year in uninterrupted lockdown amid a worrying surge in Covid-19 cases across the Philippines, especially in the capital, despite having enforced some of the strictest and longest lockdown measures in the world.

Exactly a year ago, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte ordered the land, air and sea borders of Manila to be closed apart from shutting down all non-essential businesses and limiting the nearly 14 million residents’ movements within the city, measures which were extended to the entire country two days later.

The Philippines has by now registered over 621,000 coronavirus cases – including more than 48,000 active patients – with the daily caseload averaging over 5,000 infections over the weekend, the highest level in seven months, with Manila again emerging as the main epicenter.

According to projections by the statistics center of the University of Philippines, if infections continue rising at the current rate, the country could witness over 8,000 daily cases by the end of March, including a daily caseload of 6,000 in the capital.

According to the same study, if control measures are not taken, by April the Philippines – with around 109 million inhabitants – may notch up as many as 20,000 daily infections including around 14,000 in Manila, where 40 percent of the national caseload is concentrated.

After having witnessed a strict lockdown for six months, the capital is currently placed under a more relaxed regime, with the gradual opening of establishments and workspaces over the past few months, and movement outside the capital is allowed with a negative Covid-19 test report.

There has been an increasing demand from the medical fraternity to harden measures and curb the growing surge in cases, but the Philippine government has resisted this as the economy has taken a hard hit during the prolonged lockdown in Manila and the surrounding provinces, which generate 70 percent of the national GDP.

The Philippine economy has plunged into its first recession in three decades.

For the moment, a night curfew between 10 pm and 5 am has been imposed in the capital for two weeks along with the closure of streets and buildings where outbreaks have been reported.

Parks and recreational facilities as well as both public and private schools have remained closed in the city for over a year now.

The police has said that it will increase deployment in malls and public places to ensure compliance of health protocols such as social distancing and the mandatory wearing of not just face masks but also face-shields.

The surge in cases is a result of the gradual reopening of the economy – which has led to an increase in social interactions – as well as the appearance of the new coronavirus variants that are around 150 percent more contagious.

Amid controversies, the Philippines finally kicked off its vaccination program – currently limited to health workers- after many delays on Mar. 1 with the vaccines developed by Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

Although the country has so far received only 1.1 million doses of the vaccines, the government insists that 70 percent of the population would be vaccinated by the end of the year.

More than 12,800 people have died of Covid-19 in the Philippines, the second-worst affected Southeast Asian country by the pandemic after Indonesia, although the latter is much ahead in its vaccination program. EFE-EPA


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