Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday that Metro Manila will be put under partial lockdown, implementing restrictions and travel suspensions to and from the metropolis to halt the further spread of the new coronavirus.
Announcing a host of measures during a televised address, Duterte said land, domestic air, and domestic sea travel to and from the area will be suspended between March 15 and April 14, though trains and other forms of mass transit will continue operating.
The president said a "community quarantine" was being imposed in the entire Metro Manila, but he was hesitant to use the term "lockdown," suggesting it could sound draconian.
"For Metro Manila, we did not want to use this because there is fear with a lockdown. But it's a lockdown," he said. "There is no struggle of power here, no fighting, no war. It's just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19."
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo later clarified, "While a total and absolute lockdown is considered by some as a valid preventive measure, current circumstances do not warrant such an extreme course of action."
Among other measures announced by Duterte, the suspension of classes will be extended until April 12 to prevent the spread of infections among students in schools and universities, while flexible work arrangements will be encouraged in the private sector.
The country's COVID-19 alert level system was raised to Code Red Sublevel 2 -- the highest alert level -- indicating sustained human-to-human transmission in the community beyond the government's capacity to trace cases of the new coronavirus.
Duterte called for "stringent social distancing measures" in the national capital region for 30 days, with mass gatherings to be prohibited.
"Do not panic," he told Filipinos, while urging them to "try to obey what government is suggesting or ordering you to do."
The moves are expected to affect the 12.8 million people living in the metropolis composed of 16 cities including the capital Manila.
The number of infected people in the Philippines has steadily risen to 52, including five who died.