Metro Manila Coronavirus Lockdown
Manila's Quiapo Church (right) and Quezon Boulevard. This is normally one of the busiest and most crowded streets in the city, but it was nearly empty on Sunday, March 15.  All photos by the writer.

The Eerie Quiet of Manila on the First Day of Coronavirus Lockdown

Malls and churches, typically full during weekends, were nearly empty on the first day of the lockdown.
16 March 2020, 8:25am

Manila’s coronavirus lockdown started at the strike of midnight on Sunday, March 15.

Travel to and from the Philippine capital and its greater metropolitan area are now restricted, and citizens have been advised to stay home. Some cities have even enforced curfews, prohibiting people from public places from 8 PM to 5 AM. As of Monday, March 16, there were a total of 140 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths in the Philippines.

On the eve of the lockdown, the Philippine National Police and local government units set up checkpoints at Metro Manila’s borders, where people are subjected to temperature and identity checks. Those who live outside Metro Manila but work in the city, or vice versa, were allowed to pass through by presenting a proof of employment or business ownership.

Members of the Philippine National Police at a border crossing checkpoint between San Pedro, Laguna and Metro Manila's Muntinlupa City on Sunday, March 15.

Night fell quickly in Manila over the weekend.

Makati City’s nightlife district Poblacion, usually crowded with tourists and young Filipinos, were quiet and sober on a Saturday night.

An empty street in Makati City’s nightlife district Poblacion on the evening of March 14, hours before the lockdown. Sidewalks are usually crowded in this area but it was quiet by 9 PM on that day. Some bars closed by 10 PM

Morning came and the city was just as quiet. Manila’s typically traffic-congested streets were wide and free. Trains, buses, and jeepneys are now required to limit passengers. Commuters waiting in line must stand one meter away from one another.

However, some train stations were still crowded by commuters on their way to work this morning, while lines were longer than usual in others because of the required social distancing.

An empty bus station in Pasay City. Operations closed early on Sunday, March 15 because of the lack of passengers.

Public mass gatherings are prohibited under the lockdown. While Catholic churches are usually teeming with people on any given Sunday, they were empty after the Archdiocese of Manila suspended all masses for seven days. Devotees stayed at home as parishes live streamed religious services on social media.

San Ildefonso Parish in Makati City on Sunday, March 15. Instead of the usual Sunday mass, the church live streamed the religious service on Facebook.

Manila’s massive malls were also nearly empty, void of the usual families that relax there during the weekend. Mall chains are now temporarily closed, with only some supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants offering delivery services, remaining open.

Glorietta Mall in Makati City on Saturday, March 14, hours before the lockdown.

While some see the lockdown as a solution to the coronavirus outbreak, many are also concerned about the consequences of the “community quarantine.”

Emanuelle Cabaltera and Sherly Lyn Cabang, employees of a temporarily closed arcade inside Glorietta Mall, told VICE that they are worried about the lockdown's negative impact on their livelihood.

“I hope the government can help us contain this virus as soon as possible and give us daily goods, medicine, or any aid, while we are unemployed and in quarantine,” Emanuelle said.

Employees clean an empty arcade in Makati City on Sunday, March 15.

“As the breadwinner of the family, I need to find another job while our company is temporarily closed,” Sheryl added. “I am fearful for my health too, and if given the privilege, I will stay at home so I won’t be exposed to the virus. But we have to take the risk and gamble our safety for survival.”