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VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Understanding ‘community quarantine’ and ‘social distancing’ policies

President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Luzon island under an “enhanced community quarantine” on Monday as transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continued to rise on the second day of a virtual lockdown of Metro Manila.

In a nationwide broadcast, Duterte did not only widen the coverage of the community quarantine. He also temporarily suspended work in public and private offices, and deployed more soldiers and policemen to strictly enforce home-quarantine and social distancing measures.

On March 12, the president raised the alert level on COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, to the highest — Code Red sub-level 2 — and placed Metro Manila on community quarantine. This followed the sharp increase in the number of transmission and deaths attributed to the highly-contagious disease in the country’s national capital region. Code Red sub-level 2, based on the Department of Health (DOH) guidelines, means there is sustained community transmission, or human-to-human transmission beyond the government’s capacity to handle. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Code Red Alert on COVID-19).

Primarily, the guidelines provided for suspension of classes in all levels for one month, temporary suspension of work in non-essential sectors, social distancing especially in public places, and suspension of public and mass transport services.

As of March 17, the DOH reported 14 deaths and 187 confirmed COVID-19 cases, following the validation of two additional deaths and 45 positive cases from the previous day. Among those who tested positive were popular movie and television actor Christopher De Leon and a director at the Department of Health central office. A day before, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri came out with news that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had informed him that he tested positive for COVID-19. So far, Zubiri is the highest government official infected with the novel coronavirus.

Here’s the DOH’s tracker on COVID-19 cases nationwide.

The president advised local government units outside Luzon to also “abide by the guidelines imposing local community quarantine in their respective jurisdictions.”

Several cities, municipalities, and provinces in Visayas and Mindanao have already taken the initiative to place their respective jurisdictions under community quarantine to keep people in their homes and minimize movements in the streets and public places.

Initially, only Metro Manila was under community quarantine, considering that most of the confirmed COVID-19 cases were in the NCR, according to the DOH COVID-19 tracker. Explaining the policy, Duterte said it was a virtual lockdown. In his March 12 public address, the president said:

Ayaw namin gamitin ‘yan pero — kasi takot kayo sabihin “lockdown” (We don’t want to use [the term lockdown]…but it’s a lockdown.”

Source: RTVMalacanang Youtube, Public Address of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), March 12, 2020, watch from 25:20 to 25:30

The community quarantine now covers the entire Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island with a population of 53 million as of 2015, according to Philippine Statistics Authority.

Prior to this, the DOH reported the first local transmission of COVID-19, prompting the president to issue Proclamation No. 922, declaring a state of public emergency throughout the country.

The president’s March 12 decision to raise the COVID-19 alert level to the highest was made upon the recommendation of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) under Resolution No. 11, prescribing guidelines, including “stringent social distancing measures” in Metro Manila for 30 days to control the contagion.

The day after the President’s public address, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea released a memorandum on guidelines and management of the COVID-19 situation, based on IATF’s Resolution Nos. 11 and 12.

On March 16, a new set of guidelines were issued, not only widening the coverage of the community quarantine but also “enhancing” the quarantine measures with stricter enforcement of social distancing guidelines to compel people to stay in their homes.

The guidelines are subject to daily review by the IATF.

In view of the public confusion over these policies related to COVID-19, here are four things you need to know:

  1. What is a community quarantine?

In the March 13 Medialdea memorandum entitled “Stringent Social Distancing Measures and Further Guidelines for the Management of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Situation,” it classified community quarantine into two types:

2. What is social distancing?

Social distancing refers to certain actions that public health officials take to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease, according to Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) Social Distancing Memorandum.

It includes avoiding large gatherings and keeping a distance of at least one meter from another person, according to the Executive Secretary’s March 13 memorandum.

3. What are the restrictions under the Enhanced Community Quarantine?

A strict home quarantine will be implemented. Here are the following measures and guidelines released by Medialdea on March 16 about the suspension of classes, work arrangements, travel restrictions for land, sea, and air transportation services:

Owners of shopping malls in Metro Manila have voluntarily announced the temporary closure of their establishments as of March 15, except for supermarkets, drug stores, banks, and convenience stores, according to news reports.

4. What happens to the planned curfew?

In a March 16 press conference, IATF spokesperson and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the planned 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew had been superseded by guidelines for the enhanced community quarantine:

“Curfew is back home ka (The curfew [protocol now] is you’re back home)…(This is now) 24 hours strict curfew na ito…So superseded na iyong mga (This supersedes the) curfews that were being imposed by the LGUs because ang (the) general rule is `stay at home’.”



RTVMalacanang Official Facebook, Message / Meeting with the IATF-EID, March 16, 2020

Department of Health Official Facebook, DOH-COVID-19 Announcement, March 17, 2020

Department of Health Official Facebook, In review: DOH confirmed 4th Filipino who recovered from COVID-19, March 17, 2020

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri Official Facebook, It is with sadness that i announce…, March 16, 2020

Department of Health, COVID-19 PH Tracker, March 17, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Guidance of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the COVID-19, March 16, 2020

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Public Address of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), March 12, 2020

RTVMalacanang Official Youtube, Public Address of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), March 12, 2020

Philippine Statistics Authority, Highlights of the Philippine Population 2015 Census of Population, May 19, 2016

Official Gazette, Proclamation No. 922 s. 2020, March 8, 2020

Official Gazette, Stringent Social Distancing Measures and Further Guidelines for the Management of the COVID-19 Situation, March 13, 2020

Official Gazette, Community Quarantine over the Entire Luzon, March 16, 2020

Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 10623: Price Act, July 23, 2012

Manila International Airport Authority, Protocol in response to the COVID-19-Social Distancing Implementation, March 15, 2020

GMA News Online, Metro Manila malls to temporarily close amid COVID-19 threat, March 15, 2020

ABS-CBN News, Malls in Metro Manila close temporarily for community quarantine, March 15, 2020, Mall chain temporarily closes shops in metro due to community quarantine, March 15, 2020

ABS-CBN News Youtube, Cabinet officials explain Luzon-wide ‘enhanced community quarantine, March 16, 2020

Department of Transportation, Press Release: Foreign nationals, balikbayans, OFWs, may now depart PH during community quarantine period, March 18, 2020

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles Official Facebook, REPLAY: IATF Press Briefer | Tuesday, March 17, March 18, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)