By Darryl John Esguerra
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, spokesperson for the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, said in a virtual press briefing that in places of the country under lockdown, people going out to buy necessities were now required to wear masks to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon on a monthlong lockdown on March 16 to halt the contagion.
Any mask will do
Luzon is home to half of the country’s population of 107 million. Under the measure, people are allowed to leave their homes only to buy necessities. Public transport is banned. Only food trucks, carriers of essentials, and cargo haulers are allowed on the road. The lockdown ends at midnight of April 12.
Nograles said medical masks, ear-loop masks, homemade masks, face shields and even handkerchiefs would do as long as these covered the nose and mouth.
He said the task force had directed local governments to issue executive orders or ordinances that would require the wearing of masks and impose penalties on violators.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reported 322 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that is sweeping the globe, infecting more than 935,000 people and killing some 47,000 of them in 207 countries and territories.
The new cases brought the total number of infections in the Philippines to 2,633. Duque said 11 more patients had died, raising the toll to 107. He said only one patient had recovered, bringing the number of survivors to 51.
Earlier, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the increasing number of confirmed cases was the result of the DOH’s expanded capacity to test for the coronavirus, with the acquisition of thousands of testing kits and the designation of additional laboratories for reducing the backlog of samples.
But an apparent spike in infections has overwhelmed the health system in Luzon, with hospitals reaching capacity, running out of protective gear, and losing staff to the coronavirus. (See related story in Regions, Page A9.) About a dozen doctors have died of the disease and scores of staff have gone into quarantine after exposure to coronavirus patients.
Health gear distributed
Duque said the DOH, through the Office of Civil Defense, had distributed 12,000 sets of personal protective equipment to six hospitals—Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center, East Avenue Medical Center, San Lazaro Medical Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine General Hospital and Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital.
Lung Center and Rodriguez Memorial are the latest hospitals to accept COVID-19 patients. Duque said Quezon Institute would start accepting coronavirus patients next Monday.
Nograles said the Philippine International Convention Center, Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and World Trade Center were being readied for use as quarantines. He said the convention center and the sports complex would be ready by April 10 and the trade center by April 12.
When refitted, the three facilities will have a combined capacity of 1,900 beds, Nograles said.
He said the interagency task force had also found at least six more facilities in Metro Manila that could be converted into quarantines—Quezon Institute, Ultra, Duty Free Philippines in Parañaque, Amoranto Stadium, Quezon Memorial Circle Complex and Veterans Memorial Center Complex.
Presidential Peace Adviser Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the government’s COVID-19 response program, said on Wednesday the government would force people under observation or monitoring for the coronavirus into quarantine to halt the spread of the disease. —WITH REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND JULIE M. AURELIO