Arrest allowed for refusal to follow measures vs. COVID-19 – DOH

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Authorities can enforce mandatory quarantine for travelers and set a price freeze for essential products after President Rodrigo Duterte placed the country under a state of public health emergency, the Department of Health says.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9) — People refusing to follow mandatory measures to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be arrested under a state of public health emergency, the Department of Health said Monday.

Sanctions may range from one to six months imprisonment, with penalty ranging from P20,000 to P50,000,.

Businesses or establishments may lose permits, and private professionals and government workers may be suspended or may lose license to work for failing to cooperate. COVID-19 patients who refuse to be isolated or quarantined may also face arrest.

"The DOH order for quarantine must be followed in earnest by everyone," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. He added level 2 and 3 hospitals cannot refuse suspected patients.

General hospitals are classified into three levels. Level 1 has basic healthcare services. Level 2 provides additional resources like departmentalized clinical services, intensive care unit, and high risk pregnancy unit. Level 3 offers medical training programs and other facilities such as dialysis clinic and blood bank.

Proclamation 922 signed Sunday formalizes the state of public health emergency, which allows government agencies to implement mandatory reporting, intensify government response and measures, and enforce quarantine and disease control prevention measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. A price freeze for medicines can also be implemented, DOH said.

The proclamation was issued after DOH confirmed local transmission of the disease during the weekend, as the agency confirmed 10 coronavirus cases in the Philippines.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the declaration would allow authorities to tap funding for local government units to respond to suspected and confirmed cases or transmission in their area, as well as ease some steps in the procurement of materials and medical tools.

Duque said Duterte's order would likewise allow mandatory reporting and the enforcement of mandatory quarantine, while making sure that prices of drugs and medicine "will not be abused."

The government may also enforce a lockdown depending on how the COVID-19 infection unfolds.

“We have to wait until evidence of sustained community transmission is presented. That will trigger the community lockdown or quarantine,” he said.

Under Republic Act 11332, a public health emergency refers to an "occurrence of an imminent threat of an illness or health condition which could pose a high probability of a large number of deaths… widespread exposure to an infectious agent."

Four more COVID-19 cases were confirmed Sunday night, which include two people who had no travel history abroad and contracted the disease within the Philippines. The country is currently on "Code Red sublevel 1."

Duque earlier said the department will raise the alert to sub-level two once several transmissions are reported, which will trigger community-wide lockdowns. Schools and work may also be suspended under this alert level.

"All citizens, residents, tourists, and establishment owners are urged to act within the bounds of the law and to comply with the lawful directives and advisories to be issued by appropriate government agencies to prevent further transmission of the COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of all," the proclamation read.