Chinese women use trash bags to cover their body and head while waiting for their flight at the departure area of Manila's International Airport on Wednesday. AP
Manolo B. Jara, Correspondent
President Rodrigo "Rody" Duterte declared a nationwide state of calamity amid warnings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and local health experts that the number of cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) could peak at 75,000 in three months, or in June, if its rapid spread could not be contained.
A soldier assists a woman as she goes down a military truck that offers a free ride after public transportation have been halted due to the enhanced community quarantine to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila. AP
"There is hereby declared a state of calamity throughout the Philippines for a period of six months, unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant," Duterte said in Proclamation 929, which he signed late on Monday night.
The proclamation was the latest major step that Duterte took to stop the rapid spread of the dreaded disease after he ordered the expansion to "enhanced community quarantine" or "total lockdown" to cover not only Metro Manila but also the main island of Luzon with a total population of 57 million.
Malacanang Palace said the declaration would allow the president, among others, to tap the government's calamity funds earlier reported to amount to $320 million in the 2020 national budget.
It will also allow, Malacanang pointed out, officials of local government units like towns and cities throughout the country to gain speedy access to special funds to assist their constituencies during public health emergency.
A Chinese family covered with plastic bags as a precautionary measure walks at the departure level of Manila's International Airport. AP
Duterte noted that COVID-19 cases continued to soar, prompting the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Disease to raise the alert level to CODE Sublevel 2, indicating there are already recorded cases of community transmission.
"Despite government interventions, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise," Duterte said as the health department reported that as of Wednesday, confirmed cases rose by six from 187 to 193 with 14 deaths and seven recoveries.
This developed as Assistant Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire aired the warning of WHO and local health experts that if no effective measures were taken to check its spread, the number of confirmed cases could reach its peak of 75,000 in June or three months from now.
Vergeire said the alarming number was reached through a "modeling estimate" from WHO and local experts who cited the report of Health Secretary Francisco Duque that "there's now community transmission" of the dreaded disease in the country.
"We're saying that we could reach 75,000 cases if we do not put the proper interventions (to stop the rapid spread of the disease)," Vergeire said in a mix of Filipino and English during a government media briefing aired on state-owned PTV-4 on Wednesday.
Vergeire explained their findings showed it was possible for a confirmed patient to infect two persons in "just one sitting" as further evidence of community transmission.
However, she assured it was possible to slow down the rate at which people could get sick, calling this "flattening the curve," as long a strict measures are implemented to stop the spread of the ailment, like "social distancing."
Meanwhile, Secretary Eduardo Ano of the Department of Interior and Local Government also assured that measures were being taken to ease the confusion and protests that highlighted the setting up of checkpoints, stranding thousands of people on Monday.
The main aim, Ano said, is to limit the movement of people in Metro Manila, composed of 15 cities and one town with a total of close to 13 million.
In particular, Ano said the government would provide free transport to health workers who were forced to absent themselves or report late for work due to lack of mass transport like buses, jeepneys (minibuses) and taxis.
Ano who retired as general and chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said he was determined to implement one of the features of the enhanced quarantine or "total lockdown," meaning the suspension of the operation of mass transport in Metro Manila to force people to stay at home.
"It will be very premature and I think unrealistic to think that we're going to finish with this virus by the end of the year," Ryan told journalists. "But I think what we can finish with, if we're smart, is the hospitalisations, the deaths and the tragedy associated with this pandemic."
This statement was made in a circular issued by the Ministry of Education and the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, NCEMA, as a preventive and precautionary measure to ensure the safety of students and in line with the national efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, COVID-19.
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The Philippines recorded three additional coronavirus deaths and 29 new cases, bringing the domestic tally of infections to 140, as authorities placed the entire capital Manila under "community quarantine" for about a month beginning on Sunday.
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