Philippines gives foreigners days to leave virus-hit region

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Residents step on measured tape placed outside a supermarket to practice social distancing as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus in Manila, Philippines, early Tuesday, March 17, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA – Thousands of foreign travelers need to leave the northern Philippines by Friday or they will be stranded in the region, which has been placed under quarantine because of a growing number of coronavirus infections, officials said Tuesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared an “enhanced community quarantine” on the main island of Luzon that requires millions of people to stay mostly at home and restricts land, air and sea travel to fight the COVID-19 disease. The monthlong containment, which took effect Tuesday, suspended school classes and most office work, including trading at the stock exchange, and cleared Manila’s main roads of their notorious traffic jams.

The Philippines has reported 187 cases of infections, according to the Department of Health, which confirmed Tuesday that one of its officials was among those sickened. Fourteen people have died, the most in Southeast Asia.

Transport Undersecretary Raul del Rosario said foreign tourists and travelers can opt to leave Luzon, where Manila is located, within 72 hours to avoid being stranded, because all flights from the region will be suspended.

When the deadline arrives, “they will have no option because all flights, domestic and international, will be canceled,” del Rosario told a news conference.

Many passengers jammed Manila’s main airport Tuesday.

Some airlines have already canceled flights, complicating the problems of outbound travelers.

The drastic moves announced by Duterte on Monday night, which include the suspension of mass transport, caught many by surprise and sparked traffic jams and confusion in many areas.