Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte undergoes testing for COVID-19 at the Malacanang Palace, Manila, Philippine officials say  Duterte is being tested for the new virus after meeting with Cabinet officials who were exposed to infected people.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte undergoes testing for COVID-19 at the Malacanang Palace, Manila, Philippine officials say Duterte is being tested for the new virus after meeting with Cabinet officials who were exposed to infected people.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Philippine president has suspended domestic travel to and from the Manila area for a month and authorized sweeping quarantines in the region to fight the new coronavirus.

President Rodrigo Duterte also banned large gatherings in the metropolis, suspended most government work and extended the suspension of classes by a month in new restrictions announced Thursday in a nationwide TV address.

He warned that violators and officials who refuse to enforce the restrictions would face possible imprisonment.

“This is not martial law. It’s not even something extraordinary,” Duterte said, stressing that the restrictions are only aimed at fighting the virus.

Duterte announced the steps after a meeting of an inter-agency task force on the outbreak.

Health officials have confirmed 52 cases of the virus, and two people, a Chinese and a Filipino, have died.

Duterte self-quarantined

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was tested for the new coronavirus on Thursday after meeting with Cabinet officials who were exposed to infected people and have now been self-quarantined, an official said.

Duterte has no symptoms of COVID-19 but wanted to make sure he is healthy and can continue to engage with the public, said Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, a former presidential aide who still accompanies Duterte to official functions.

“Considering that some Cabinet members we engage with regularly have been exposed to individuals who were tested positive for COVID-19 ... it is just prudent for us to take precautionary measures in compliance with the advice of our health officials,” Go said.

Go, who was elected to the Senate last year, told reporters the result of the test on Duterte was expected in 48 hours.

At least nine Cabinet members, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, have said they were exposed separately to COVID-19 patients and decided to self-quarantine. Several mayors and senators have also gone on home quarantine after coming into contact with patients.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said some finance officials who had been with Dominguez later held a news conference at a presidential palace briefing room. The press area was later disinfected, along with a media working area and presidential conference halls.

“Some members of the Malacañang press corps who covered the economic briefing also deemed it best to undergo self-quarantine,” Andanar said, referring to journalists covering presidential palace events.

Duterte’s elite presidential guards announced early this week that they will enforce a “no touch policy” for Duterte to protect him from the virus and screen politicians and dignitaries who get near him. But Duterte played down the restrictions and suggested that he was not intimidated by the disease.

“That protocol is foolish. I will shake hands,” Duterte said. “If God calls me now, I’ll go. I’m done. I’m the president now, the highest post anybody could reach.”

Duterte was leading an inter-agency task force on the outbreak on Thursday and was expected to announce new steps to fight the disease.

Health officials have confirmed 52 cases of the virus, and two people, a Chinese and a Filipino, have died.

The illness causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people but can be severe in the elderly and people with other health problems.

Duterte, 74, who took time off from work due to illness several times last year, postponed a trip to Boracay island on Thursday due to concerns over the virus, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. He had planned to travel to the beach resort to promote domestic tourism amid a slump in arrivals of foreign tourists because of the pandemic.

Concerns over the outbreak have been complicated by fears that a water shortage in the Manila metropolis could worsen as the scorching summer season sets in.

“How will we wash our hands if there’s no water?” opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked.

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