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Philippines reimposes lockdown as doctors warn health system could collapse

Nicola Smith
People queue for a Covid-19 test in Manila - Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
People queue for a Covid-19 test in Manila - Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

The Philippines is to reinstate a stricter lockdown on its capital, Manila, from Tuesday after warnings from medical groups over the weekend that hospitals are losing the battle against the coronavirus.

Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president, apologised as the number of Covid-19 cases breached 100,000 and he reintroduced a “modified enhanced community quarantine” that will restrict the operations of non-essential businesses and only allow people to leave home for work or to buy food. 

"We're doing our very best. Sorry, Manila," said Mr Duterte during a televised broadcast late on Sunday evening. 

The 103,185 case count and 2,059 death toll is second only to Indonesia in Southeast Asia, despite bringing the economy to its knees by previously imposing one of the longest and strictest quarantine periods in the world, from March 15 to June 1. 

The fresh measures, which will include the need for quarantine passes in the city of some 12 million and see churches close their doors again, were renewed after a call from 80 groups representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses, who asked for a “time out” to regroup their coronavirus strategies. 

Medical workers say they are burning out - Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE
Medical workers say they are burning out - Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE

“We have witnessed a consistent rise in [the] number of infections and this, among other scenarios, prompts us to act now and act fast,” the organisations said, according to the Manila Times.

Medical workers were feeling burned out, they added, telling the government that the country’s “healthcare system has been overwhelmed” and that “we are waging a losing battle against Covid-19.”

Dr Maria Encarnita Limpin, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians warned that if the infection toll continued to escalate, the health care system, which was the “last line of defence” in the fight against the pandemic, would fail.

"I have heard you. Don't lose hope. We are aware that you are tired," Mr Duterte responded late on Sunday, after the Philippines recorded 5,032 additional infections, the country's largest single-day increase.

Mr Duterte has also approved the hiring of 10,000 medical professionals to beef up the current workforce and additional benefits for healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients.

But he stopped short of reintroducing the previous hard lockdown that banned anyone aged below 21 or over 60 from going out, imposed a 10pm-5am curfew, and shut down all offices as well as public transport. 

The measures were devastating for the poorest communities and the economy of the country of 107 million is now facing its biggest contraction in more than three decades.

On Monday, the Philippine College of Physicians clarified that their call for a return to a stricter quarantine was not a cry for revolt, reported The Philippine Star. 

In an open letter Dr Mario Panaligan, the PCP president, said that Duterte's "quick response on the matter was highly appreciated" and that help that the president had offered the medical community would "go a long way."