Philippines sets up checkpoints as daily case count hits record


By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

PHILIPPINE police set up checkpoints in areas placed under a “travel bubble” to enforce quarantine rules as health authorities reported 8,019 coronavirus infections on Monday, the highest daily tally since the pandemic started last year.

“Border checkpoints were installed to prevent unauthorized people from entering,” acting police chief Guillermo Lorenzo T. Eleazar told a televised news briefing in Filipino on Monday.

“We are also guarding the National Capital Region (NCR), which is in the middle of the bubble. People should follow minimum health protocols,” he added.

The control points in Metro Manila and nearby provinces would not restrict people traveling within the bubble, he said.

Monday’s tally surpassed the 7,999 infections reported on Saturday, bringing the total infections to 671,792, the Department of Health (DoH) said.

The death toll rose to 12,972 after four more people died, while recoveries increased by 103 to 577,850, it said in a bulletin.

The checkpoints within the greater Manila bubble or so-called NCR Plus would only be used to check compliance of drivers and passengers with health protocols, Mr. Eleazar said. Cops could not bar people from the capital region from traveling to Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna and vice versa, he added.

He said mobility restrictions would only be enforced at checkpoints in the peripheries or boundaries of the greater Manila bubble and those outside the corridor such as Batangas, Nueva Ecija, Quezon and Pampanga, among others. Only authorized persons would be allowed to enter the bubble.

Under the latest quarantine rules that President Rodrigo R. Duterte approved on Sunday, health workers, economic frontliners, government officials, authorized humanitarian workers, people in need of medical services and returning migrant Filipinos were exempted from the travel restrictions.

People leaving or entering the bubble need to show at checkpoints any form of identification or document that confirms their purpose for travel, Mr. Eleazar said.

Gyms and spas would still be allowed to operate while tourism activities would be allowed within the bubble, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told the same briefing.

Local governments have the last say as far as these businesses are concerned, he added.

Mr. Roque said personal care services can operate at 50% capacity, while fitness centers and gyms are allowed to operate at 75% capacity in the region.

“What’s prohibited is if you will go out of the bubble — for example, you’re in Manila and you want to go to Boracay. That would be a problem,” Mr. Eleazar said in Filipino.

Mr. Roque said minors and seniors would not be allowed as tourists within the bubble.

In a statement on Monday, Philippine Airlines said it would only carry passengers traveling for non-leisure purposes between Manila and domestic stations during the two-week ban.

The flag carrier said domestic leisure travelers may convert their tickets to a travel voucher until Jun. 30 and avail themselves of unlimited rebooking with no rebooking fee until Dec. 31.

“If you will be completing your travel in the same booking class by Jun. 30, 2021 (or ticket validity, whichever comes first), there will be no fare difference charge,” it said.

DoH said there were 80,970 active coronavirus cases, 95.4% of which were mild, 2.2% did not show symptoms, 0.9% were critical, 1% were severe and 0.52% were moderate.

The agency said 12 duplicates had been removed from the tally. Two laboratories failed to submit data on Mar. 21.

About 9.1 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Mar. 16, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 123.9 million and killed 2.7 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 99.8 million people have recovered, it said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sunday approved a recommendation by an inter-agency task force to keep the capital region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under a general community quarantine with more restrictions from Mar. 22 to Apr. 4.

Mass gatherings and some religious activities would be banned and an eight-hour curfew starting at 10:00 pm would be imposed.

Only essential travel into and out of Metro Manila and surrounding areas would be allowed.

Mr. Roque said the two-week special quarantine for Metro Manila and nearby provinces would probably cut coronavirus cases by a quarter.

“It is a realistic goal for the next two weeks,” he said. “We hope we can sustain this afterwards. This is just a minimum goal. We are aiming for more.”

Metro Manila would tap health workers from other areas to increase the capacity of its hospitals, Mr. Roque said.

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