Doctored Covid lockdown announcement misleads online as Philippines infections rise

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

A doctored news graphic that claims the Philippine government imposed a strict lockdown in the capital Manila and four neighbouring provinces between April and May 2023 has surfaced on Facebook. While the Southeast Asian archipelago has seen an uptick in Covid-19 infections, it has not imposed a lockdown, a health department spokesperson said on May 5. The news graphic was edited from an old announcement about lockdowns imposed in 2021.

"And they've started it again, my gosh, things will get tough again," reads Tagalog text superimposed on the graphic shared on Facebook on April 28.

The graphic, which features the logo of Philippine broadcaster PTV, says there will be an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) order between April 26 and May 26, 2023 in the National Capital Region -- also know as Metro Manila -- and neighbouring Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces.

According to the government's Covid task force, an ECQ involves "stringent limitations on movement" and a "heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce community quarantine protocols" (archived link).

Screenshot of the false post taken on May 4, 2023

The fabricated graphic was also shared on Facebook here, here and here as the Philippines saw an uptick in Covid-19 cases that health officials said may have been caused by social gatherings ahead of the Easter holiday (archived link).

The health department recorded 11,400 active Covid cases, as of May 7 (archived link).

However, there was no lockdown in the places mentioned in the graphic, a spokesperson for the health department's Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) told AFP on May 5.

They said Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal have been under Alert Level 1 since the IATF's latest recommendations published on April 14 (archived link).

Alert Level 1, which is the lowest tier of pandemic restrictions, means mobility restrictions are lifted but social distancing is still recommended.

Furthermore, the graphic uses outdated terminology for pandemic measures.

The Philippines stopped using the term "ECQ" in November 2021 in favour of the numbered alert levels system from 1 to 5 (archived link).

'Old news'

Keyword searches and reverse image searches found the original news graphic posted by PTV on Facebook on March 27, 2021 (archived link).

The original graphic detailed lockdown restrictions from March 29 to April 4, 2021. In the doctored version, the date has been changed to April 26 until May 26, 2023.

Screenshots comparing the doctored graphic (left) and the original graphic published in March 2021 (right)

A PTV representative confirmed the broadcaster did not publish the doctored graphic.

"PTV strongly denounces the wrong use of its old news and digital material to spread misinformation," a spokesperson told AFP.