Coronavirus News Asia

Why Duterte won’t lift world’s longest lockdown

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MANILA – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended one of the world’s longest and strictest Covid-19 lockdowns until June, a controversial move that is out-of-step with regional easing trends and promises to intensify the nation’s economic and human suffering.

Now set to run for 11 weeks, or 80 days, the soldier-enforced “collective quarantine” of the capital Metro Manila and other large cities will be longer than the 76-day lockdown of Wuhan, China, the origin of the global pandemic.

The lockdown has arguably done more damage to Filipino livelihoods, with more than one million jobs expected to disappear. Emergency rule has also taken a toll on the nation’s standing as democracy, raising questions if curbs on civil liberties will ever be restored.   

Duterte’s extended lockdown has coincided with a concerted clamp down on independent media and critical voices, including its perfunctory shutdown on flimsy legal grounds of the ABS-CBN News network, the Philippines’ largest broadcaster.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), up to 41,000 people have been arrested for violating “Enhanced Community Quarantine” (ECQ) regulations in major cities, with overall violations reaching 156,000.

The Philippine government has yet to provide a precise rationale for extending a tortuous lockdown in one of the world’s most densely-populated cities.

Workers in hazmat suits disinfect a road in San Juan City, Philippines on March 19, 2020. Photo: NurPhoto via AFP Forum/Lisa Marie David

Around two-thirds of the country’s 11,876 cases and three quarters of its 790 deaths have been concentrated in the urbanized Metro Manila area, according to official statistics.

But while cases are still rising, the confirmed numbers are far lower than in European nations that are now starting to emerge from their virus lockdowns as well as neighbors such as Singapore (26,000).

To be sure, there are reasons to be skeptical of the government’s figures, given the much-delayed introduction of mass testing.

In mid-May, as the lockdown extended into a second month, Duterte’s administration admitted that it failed to reach even its fairly modest target of 8,000 tests per day. Experts believe that figure should increase to at least 30,000 tests a day in order to have a realistic assessment of the situation.

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