On Thursday night, Rodrigo Duterte announced a raft of stringent measures to combat the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (Covid-19), as the number of confirmed infections continued to rise and the mortality rate hit nearly 10 percent.

Borrowing from China’s playbook on how best to control the local transmission of the disease, the popular leader called upon the military and national police to assist health and local officials in imposing a “community quarantine” for the entire Metro Manila for at least a month.

“Ayaw naming gamitin iyan pero kasi takot kayo sabihin lockdown, but it’s a lockdown,” Duterte said in an address to the nation as senior military and police brass sat behind him, sending across a strong message to the more than 16 million residents of the sprawling capital region: they must comply.

Before the president announced the decision of an inter-agency task force on infectious diseases to raise the Code Red to alert sub-level 2, which requires placing a province, a city, a town or a specific village under lockdown if there are two residents found to have confirmed infection of the coronavirus, a copy of the task force’s resolution made the rounds of social media and chat groups.

As rumors swirled in the capital about a possible lockdown, people started lining up in supermarkets, stocking up on canned foods, instant noodles, disinfectants, toilet papers and rubbing alcohol.

Duterte’s announcement, which was delayed for more than two hours, was not at all reassuring to the capital’s residents, as the president focused too much on how to restrict movements of people, like suspending work in the executive department, classes in schools at all levels, and domestic travel by land, sea and air.

The president also encouraged the private sector to adopt flexible work shifting and schedules, but assured the public that the delivery of government services, the flow of business and goods in retail, and manufacturing and finance will continue unhampered.

The government planned to carry out these stringent “social distancing” measures by midnight on Sunday to allow health and security officials to draw up clear rules and regulations on the movement of people as well as the ban on all mass assembly, conventions, sporting events and concerts.

On Sunday, soldiers and police officers will begin setting up road blocks at all entry and exit points in Metro Manila, preventing non-essential travel to and from the capital to other points in the country. The security forces will be armed with thermal scanners to check people for fever and other symptoms of the disease, like coughing, sneezing and difficulty in breathing.

“This is not martial law,” Duterte assured the public. “It’s for your own good. I hate it but you have to do it because there is a crisis that is engulfing the country right now.”

He asked the public to comply with the “community quarantine,” warning the people they would be committing a crime if they disobeyed law enforcement agencies and other persons of authority, like barangay (village) officials.

The president’s announcement on national television on Thursday night has raised more concern, fear, anxiety, confusion, and panic, as the people were left asking more questions than getting answers on how the government was moving to address the public health crisis.

The people want answers on when the government can make available adequate supply of face masks, alcohol, and disinfectants, testing kits to screen potential coronavirus carriers, isolation rooms and hospital beds in government hospitals and small private medical centers, and trained personnel to handle Covid-19 cases.

In South Korea and some parts of the United States, people can easily get coronavirus screenings through drive-through stations, allowing authorities to easily identify and isolate those infected by the virus.

Without adequate testing kits, people do not know who are infected or not with the coronavirus, because many do not show symptoms and the elderly and people with compromised immunity and have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, lung diseases and hypertension, are more vulnerable to the disease.

Placing a large number of people under quarantine was probably the best measure the government could think of to combat the disease, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The coronavirus has infected nearly 120,000 people in 120 countries, with about 5,000 people dead.

The WHO has projected that up to 75,000 people in the Philippines could be potentially infected with the coronavirus if one person could infect four others and the four others could spread the virus to 16 more people.

With the global mortality rate at 3-4 percent, there could be about 2,250 deaths in the Philippines, but the mortality rate stood at nearly 10 percent on Thursday with five fatalities in 52 cases, an alarming rate considering the country has limited capability in dealing with widespread local community transmission as seen in China, Italy and South Korea.

Without much capability, the best way for the Philippines to control the spread is by imposing a lockdown, but it would be near to impossible to enforce the contingency measure without disrupting the Filipinos’ social and economic life.

A quarter of the capital’s daytime population live outside Metro Manila – in Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan and as far as Pampanga. It would be hard to restrict movements of workers without paralyzing industries, retail, finance and other businesses, like BPOs and semiconductor companies that are already taking a hit from supply chain disruption.

Travel and local tourism will also suffer and many small and medium enterprises, like food stalls, school canteens, and transportation, will also be affected. Investors’ confidence has been sliding due to the coronavirus threat. The local stock market spiraled down from about 7,600 points to below 6,000 points before the lockdown was announced.

The government’s gross domestic product (GDP) target of 6 to 7 percent will be likely missed. Job cuts will likely spike in the coming days if the public health problem worsens.

But the biggest consequence of the government’s declaration of war against the coronavirus is the potential loss of civil rights and basic human rights, as restrictions on the movement of people will be enforced.

Every citizen has to give up some of the basic rights, like the freedom to assemble, in the name of protecting the population in the face of coronavirus threat. Let’s hope the freedom of the press remains and the movement of journalists is not curtailed, so they can report accurately and fairly and sustain the fight against disinformation and propaganda.

The world has seen how China suppressed the press to hide, in the beginning, the exponential rise of the coronavirus disease in Hubei province, and how Beijing used its embassies around the world to go on a propaganda blitz to freshen its image and show that it has done everything to address the disease.

Journalists in the Philippines must not abdicate their watchdog role in reporting the truth about the disease and how the government continues to struggle to address the public health crisis.