MANILA, March 25 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a state of national emergency in the entire Philippines as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country jumped to 636, according to a new law released on Wednesday.
The law, which Duterte signed on Tuesday night, empowers the president to tap all available state resources to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press conference that 84 new cases have been tallied as of 4:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 636. She also said 38 people have died from the highly infectious disease, while 26 have recovered.
Among others, the law authorized the president to expedite and streamline the accreditation of testing kits and facilitate prompt testing of suspected cases and provide emergency subsidy to 18 million low income families in the country.
The measure also empowered the president to temporarily direct the operations of "privately-owned hospitals, medical and health facilities including passenger vessels and other establishments," when the public interest so requires.
The management and operation of the enterprises will be retained by the owners of the enterprise, according to the law.
The law also tasked the president to ensure the availability of essential goods, in particular food and medicine, and protect the people from illegal and pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution and movement of certain essential items.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the law is "effective immediately upon its publication and shall remain in force for three months." There are penal provisions found in the law for those who violate the provisions therein, he added.
In a national address late Tuesday night, Duterte called on the people to participate in "this war by following the guidelines set by the national government and your local officials."
"Nothing is more important now than your cooperation. I repeat: Stay at home. Do not be stubborn. The outcome of this war depends largely on you as well," Duterte said.
Duterte on March 17 placed the entire country under a state of calamity for six months following the sustained community transmission of COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
On March 16, Duterte placed Metro Manila and the rest of the main island of Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine to restrict personal movement until April 12 in a bid to prevent the exponential spread of the virus.