Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will probably only lift the coronavirus lockdown in his country when a vaccine is freely available. (Photo: How Hwee Young/AFP)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned on April 14 that he is likely to lift the lockdown across Luzon, the country’s biggest and most populous island, only if a coronavirus vaccine is discovered and readily made available to Filipinos.
Experts, however, can only speculate when a vaccine will be made available, with some saying one might be ready a year from now.
The enhanced community quarantine is scheduled to be lifted on April 30, but Duterte's comments suggest that an easing of restrictions will not be coming anytime soon.
In a televised cabinet meeting, Duterte said he was waiting for the mass production of an antibody [against Covid-19] to be sold in quantity in the local market.
“If the antibody is already there, available in the market and being sold in quantity ... then I am inclined to maybe lift the lockdown,” Duterte said on national television.
Duterte also ordered local officials to implement stricter measures to ensure families stay at home. The president was responding to reports of mass gatherings in cities that included a boxing match and cockfighting.
“There’s no end in sight. When will this end? We have no clue. And our numbers are still increasing. At this time, we need to treat the sick. We need to feed people. So please cooperate,” Duterte said.
Urban poor families, however, said staying at home is easier said than done.
“We are a family of six in a small house. It is already summer and we do not have any source of income. We cannot just stay here inside our house,” said one Manila resident, April Casino.
“We are now only eating twice a day to make sure we have enough food until the lockdown is over. Thanks to church groups, at least we are given more food.”
Meanwhile, alumni of the country’s two biggest Catholic universities have raised over 10 million pesos (US$200,000) worth of food packs and relief goods as church aid for urban poor families in Manila.
The Jesuits and the De La Salle Brothers have called on alumni support for joint feeding programs and relief operations from their respective universities. The Jesuits run Ateneo de Manila University while the De La Salle Brothers have De La Salle University.
The two universities are fierce rivals in the country’s college basketball league but have joined together to help the poor.
“I’m very proud of our alumni who can transcend the rivalry and come together. If this were music, we’re not really rivals, we’re a counterpoint to each other. When counterpoints come together in harmony, you create music,” said Brother Armin Luistro, a De La Salle religious.
As of April 14, the Philippines had recorded 5,223 Covid-19 cases with 335 deaths, according to government figures.