People heading out on the Philippines’ main island while it is under a month-long lockdown must wear face masks to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the government announced yesterday as the death toll from Covid-19 topped 100. The Department of Health reported 321 new confirmed infections, bringing the total cases in the country to 2,632. Eleven additional patients have died from the disease, pushing the death toll to 107, while 51 have recovered.
The island of Luzon, home to more than half of the Philippines’ population of an estimated 100mn, has been on lockdown since March 16.
The government said authorities were still determining if the restrictions will be lifted or expanded. “Let me repeat - if you need to go out of your house, you need to wear a mask,” government official Karlo Nograles said. People do not have to use a medical mask.
The covering can be improvised, but must cover the mouth and nose, Nograles added. “Reusable or do-it-yourself masks, face shields, handkerchiefs or such other protective equipment” that lessened the transmission of Covid-19 were all acceptable, he said.
The order was a shift from the health department’s earlier advisory that only people who are sick and those working on the front line to battle the virus needed to wear masks, with the aim of ensuring that there would be an adequate supply for those who require it most.
Nograles added that local governments units may “impose such penalties as may be appropriate” for those who violate the rule.
On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would order the police and the military to shoot dead anyone who “creates trouble” during the lockdown, as complaints about the slow delivery of food packs and cash assistance triggered public outrage and protests.
“Let this be a warning to all - follow the government at this time because it is critical that we have order,” he said in a televised national address. “My orders to the police and the military, if anyone creates trouble, and their lives are in danger: shoot them dead.”
Amnesty International and other human rights groups expressed alarm about Duterte’s warning. “It is deeply alarming that President Duterte has extended a policy of shoot to kill, a devastating hallmark of his presidency, to law enforcement agencies in the community quarantine,” said Butch Olano, section director of Amnesty International Philippines.
“Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
Nograles appealed for calm and urged the public to co-operate with the government’s directives amid concerns that anti-government forces was taking advantage of the health crisis to incite people to protest against the administration. “Let’s not complicate things by making it a peace and order problem,” he said. “It’s already hard and difficult as it is. Let us not aggravate it with other issues or concerns.
Let’s focus on one enemy, which is Covid-19.”
“Everything else, please stop it,” he added. “There has to be order and we ask for the co-operation and help of everyone.”
Aside from cases in the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs said 401 Filipinos in 32 foreign countries have been infected with the coronavirus, including 13 who have died from the disease.
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