As coronavirus cases continue to soar in the Philippines, police will be granted permission to go house to house looking for people who could be infected, Interior Minister Eduardo Año has confirmed.
Police will be instructed to look out for symptoms of the virus, but will also rely on reports by neighbours. If a person is thought to be infected with Covid-19, they can be forcibly relocated to government-run isolation facilities, through a program known as Oplan Kalinga. “We don’t want positive patients to stay home in (self) quarantine especially if their homes don’t have the capacity,” Año told media at a news conference on Tuesday. To justify the legality of the strategy, the minister referenced a law introduced in 2019 to improve disease reporting and surveillance.
The Philippines has been hit hard by the pandemic, with almost 59,000 confirmed cases and 1,614 deaths to date. Around half of these cases and 922 of the deaths have been in the country’s densely populated capital, Manila. As new daily cases increase sharply, officials argue that this inability to flatten the curve shows that the existing home quarantine system has failed. They say that the accommodation provided by the government will allow patients who would otherwise be confined to cramped conditions to have their own room and washing facilities, reducing the chance of infecting others.
However, civil society groups fear that this puts ordinary citizens at increased risk of violence at the hands of an increasingly militarised police force, emboldened by years of impunity amid the country’s violent war on drugs. The strategy will actively target impoverished inner-city communities, who already bear the brunt of violent crackdowns in Manila and other urban metropolises. These communities have also been disproportionately targeted by heavy-handed Covid-19 containment measures, say human rights monitors.