MANILA: Millions of people woke up confused, confined and frustrated in the Philippines on Tuesday, as a sweeping home quarantine order kicked in with just a few hours of warning, and Southeast Asia prepared tighter measures against a surge in coronavirus cases.
With many unaware that half the population of 107 million had been told to stay home for a month, stranded workers crowded checkpoints on the edges of Manila as vehicles tried to duck suspensions and police impounded taxis that were still running.
“I need to make a living for my family,” said Albert Santos, 42, the driver of a passenger jeep, adding that he would try to make as much money before being forced to stop.
“I can’t stop or they have nothing to eat.”
The Philippines is the first regional nation to take such drastic steps against the virus, which President Rodrigo Duterte described as “the fight of our lives”, after deeming existing curbs on movement and gatherings insufficient.
The country on Tuesday reported two more coronavirus deaths, bringing the total to 14. The two victims were both elderly, the health ministry said. It earlier reported an increase of 45 in total cases to 187.
Malaysia will follow suit from Wednesday, closing borders, schools and most businesses, while restricting internal movement, after a daily jump of 125 cases to 553, nearly two-thirds of them linked to a major event at a mosque.
Cambodia’s infections doubled to 24 on Tuesday and Thailand reported 30 new ones, taking its tally to 177, for a nearly threefold jump in a week. The regional trend casts more doubt on the view that warmer weather might stem the spread.
Thailand’s cabinet agreed on Tuesday to close schools, cinemas, bars and entertainment centres, and postpone next month’s festivities for New Year in the mainly Buddhist nation.
Manila’s usually busy business areas were almost deserted on the first morning of home quarantine, with only delivery trucks, police patrols and occasional private vehicles on the roads.
City workers in protective suits disinfected public areas, security guards sat outside banks and convenience stores and workers trickled home after night shifts at call centres and medical clinics, among the few exemptions to Duterte’s curbs.