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Coronavirus

Duterte quarantines 57m in Philippines, expanding virus fight

President urges business to slow down and extend relief to staff

The Philippines' quarantine measures have been extended to cover all of the main Luzon Island.   © Reuters

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday placed the archipelago's main Luzon Island under "enhanced community quarantine," expanding the drastic steps imposed on Metropolitan Manila to fight the spread of the new coronavirus.

Duterte also called on businesses to "slow down" in line with "social distancing" and a ban on mass gatherings in the northern Philippine island, which is home to over 57 million people and where Manila is located. The policy will last until April 12, subject to daily review.

Duterte's decision to expand the quarantine comes after the Philippine capital entered a 30-day lockdown on Sunday. COVID-19 cases in the Philippines saw a spike in recent days, totaling 142 cases and 12 deaths as of Monday.

"Everyone will stay at home," Duterte said in a recorded televised address late Monday, saying only those buying food and medicine are allowed to go out. "Work in the public and private sectors shall remain limited to work-at-home arrangements."

Under the new measures, only those establishments involved in food and medicine; financial services; and public utilities such as power, water and telecommunications are allowed to open with minimal staffing, according to a memorandum from Duterte's office.

Business-process outsourcing companies, such as call centers, and export-oriented industries will also be allowed to operate, but were ordered to observe social distancing. Movement of cargoes will also continue.

Domestic mass transportation will be suspended while international travel will be limited.

Duterte called on businesses to "slow down or tone down if possible" during the quarantine period and asked tycoons he once publicly threatened to help "alleviate the situation."

The president also appealed to employers to advance their staffs' 13th-month pay and called for a moratorium on rental fees and utility bills payments. Private-sector employers in the Philippines are required to issue a 13th month of pay to employees no later than Dec. 24 every year.

The quarantine on Luzon Island, which makes up over half of the economy, will likely hamper economic growth. To soften the blow on the economy, the finance department on Monday announced a 27.1 billion peso ($525 million) fiscal stimulus package.

Duterte also empowered municipal mayors to implement containment measures without the city councils' approval and called on village captains to help enforcement.

"If you are afraid to die of COVID-19, then you have no business being a village captain," Duterte said.

Duterte also railed against critics of police threats to arrest violators of the lockdown. "You are encouraging the people to fight the police," he said.

The president deployed armed soldiers and police personnel around Metro Manila to enforce the lockdown, raising questions about the heavy military presence.

"This is not martial law," said Duterte, who has been branded as an autocrat by critics. "Do not be afraid."

"We are at war against the vicious and invisible enemy," he said. "In this extraordinary war, we are all soldiers."

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