Philippines to expand COVID-19 restrictions to adjacent provinces near capital

MANILA, March 21 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines will expand COVID-19 restrictions to four provinces around capital Manila as infections surge in the country, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Sunday.

The provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal, along with the national capital region will be placed under stricter restrictions to curb the surge. The new restrictions will be effective from next Monday till April 4, Roque added.

Children wearing improvised face masks take shelter at a school building serving as evacuation center in Sorsogon town, Bicol region, south of Manila on May 14, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

The strict rules came after the Southeast Asian country registered over 7,000 daily infections in the past three days.

The Philippines' Department of Health (DOH) Sunday reported 7,757 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 663,794. On Saturday, the country logged 7,999 new cases, the highest ever daily tally since the outbreak began in January last year.

"Only essential travel into and out of (these adjacent provinces) will be allowed," Roque said in a televised press conference.

He said that mass gatherings, including religious congregations, are banned; face-to-face meetings in these areas are "highly discouraged"; a seven-hour curfew starting 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. will be imposed in all five regions.

"We hope that these new restrictions will lower the COVID-19 infections and stop the spread of the new coronavirus variants across the country," Roque said.

The DOH urged people living with other persons, including the vulnerable, to wear a mask even inside their homes to avoid household transmission. "Mask at home when not alone," a DOH advisory said, stressing the need to practice preventive measures "at all times and in all settings."

"All households must ensure adequate fresh air circulation by opening windows and using fans to allow increased airflow," the advisory read.

The DOH also urged the public to stay at home and suspend all non-essential travel "to reduce contact rate with people."

The DOH further appealed to the people "to help free up space in hospitals for those who need it the most."

"We need to ensure that our hospitals do not get overwhelmed, so everyone must act with extreme vigilance and reduce transmission by consistently adhering to preventive measures," the DOH added.