With more than 70,000 infections, the Philippines has the second-highest case count in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia. The nation’s death toll has surpassed 1,800, and health authorities have come under increasing pressure from citizens who have grown wary of their strongman president, Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr. Duterte recently empowered the police to go home to home searching for the sick, and has said that anyone not wearing a mask will be arrested. The New York Times reported.
We spoke to our colleague Jason Gutierrez, who is based in Manila, about what’s happening. Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.
What is the status of the virus in the Philippines?
The government hasn’t really been upfront about what’s happening. President Duterte just said that all we can do is wait for the experts in the United States or China to develop a vaccine and, apart from that, basically advised the public to follow the rules or risk getting arrested.
Our health ministry is seen by many as really inefficient. It lets President Duterte say what he wants to say and does not clarify it in public.
What’s it like in Manila?
People have to go through checkpoints, and the police go around some areas in fatigues, as if they’re going into battle. Some carry large firearms. It’s worrying because it’s militarizing the response to the health problem.
In some areas, especially the impoverished parts of Manila, the situation is a bit dire. People are really afraid to leave their homes and are basically told to just wait it out for food and medical advice or risk being arrested.
What has the response been to President Duterte’s saying the police would arrest people who didn’t wear masks?
In a lot of places, you see people always wearing medical masks, so it makes you wonder.. Ironically, he does not wear a mask when he meets his officials, and he wore a mask only when he made that threat.
Militarizing the response is probably his way of telling the public that he is doing something.
How are the restrictions in the Philippines different from elsewhere in the world?
The authorities have been empowered basically just to pick up anyone because they have allegedly violated some rule, no matter how vague. So apart from worrying about the disease, people are worrying about their security.
A Filipino broadcast journalist and his friends were biking, and they were all wearing masks when they stopped to rest. He took off his mask to take a sip of water and was picked up.
He was taken to a stadium where they take all the Covid-19 violators to listen to a seminar on the proper way of wearing a mask and doing all these medical things — but they’re putting people in proximity, which heightens the risk of getting sick.
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