The Latest: Metro Manila, outlying provinces go on lockdown

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Devotees wearing face masks and face shields to prevent the spread of the coronavirus attends a Palm Sunday mass, March 28, 2021 outside the Saint Peter Parish Church in Quezon city, Philippines. The government banned religious activities during the Holy Week as it enters into stricter lockdown measure starting next week while country struggles to control an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials placed Metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces, a region of more than 25 million people, back to a lockdown Monday at the height of the Lenten and Easter holiday travel season as they scrambled to control an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.

Only workers, government security and health personnel and residents on urgent errands would be allowed out of homes during the weeklong restrictions, which prohibited leisure trips and religious gatherings that forced the dominant Roman Catholic church to shift all its Holy Week and Easter activities online. The renewed lockdown brought President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration under fire for what critics say was its failed handling of the pandemic.

A curfew in the capital region and the provinces of Bulacan,

Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal was also expanded to 11 hours starting at 6pm.

“The rule now is stay home,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told ABS-CBN News. “If we don’t lock down again, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and the frontliners may not be able to help those who will seriously or critically get ill.”

The Philippines has imposed one of the world’s longest police- and military-enforced coronavirus quarantines and lockdowns, which caused the economy last year to contract by 9.5%, the worst economic setback since the Philippines began issuing such economic data just after World War II.

The World Bank has downgraded its economic growth forecast for the Philippines this year with one of its chief economists saying the country has been “less successful in the region in transitioning away from shutdowns to a more efficient containment strategy.”

The Philippines has reported more than 721,800 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 13,170 deaths, the second highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.