President Rodrigo Duterte is avoiding areas that have high cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to keep him coronavirus-free, Malacañang said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte was “confident” to pursue public engagements amid the pandemic because the Presidential Security Group and the Presidential Management Staff were making sure that strict health protocols were being followed.
“The epicenter [of COVID-19] is Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao. He is not going there,” Roque, now in isolation after catching COVID-19, said in a virtual presser.
Roque’s statement came a day after the Philippines logged around 5,404 new COVID-19 infections, the biggest-single day increase in cases recorded in the country this year.
Duterte stayed at Malacañan Palace in Manila when he placed the entire Luzon under the most restrictive enhanced community quarantine in March last year. He only returned to his residence in Davao City on May 16 last year after quarantine restrictions were eased.
The first time he made a public engagement was on July 3, 2020, when he visited the soldiers at the Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga City.
Unfazed by threat
Duterte, unfazed by the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, has since then attended several public events.
This month, Duterte attended six public events, including the ceremonial turnover of Covid-19 vaccine doses developed by AstraZeneca and Sinovac.
On Thursday, Duterte is set to attend an event in Eastern Samar and another one in Tacloban City.
Roque said there has been no change in Duterte’s scheduled activities.
He, nevertheless, ensured that attendees are required to undergo reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests so as not to compromise Duterte’s health.
“There has been a distinction as to who can or who cannot go near [Duterte]. And there is a separate list of people who have access to the President and are required to undergo RT-PCR test),” Roque said. With PNA
Roque said the PSG and the PMS are also requiring the use of face mask and face shield, as well as the strict observance of physical distancing during Duterte’s public events.
As a safety measure against COVID-19, Duterte is also holding “virtual” meetings with Cabinet members who have acquired or are exposed to the coronavirus, Roque said.
Roque then noted that he, along with COVID-19 vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, attended an online meeting with President on Monday.
“That happened yesterday. He was just with Secretary Duque and the three of us -- Secretary Galvez,
Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and I -- were online. Secretary Galvez because he’s on quarantine having arrived from abroad Secretary Lorenzana because he also had an exposure,” he said. Washable masks
President Duterte said the government would again distribute new washable face masks to the people, saying many Filipinos, particularly the poor, were using worn out face masks because they could not afford to buy new ones.
In his public address Monday night, Duterte reiterated his appeal to the public to wear face mask to prevent further spread of COVID-19, promising to find funds to give them away for free, with the poor as priority.
“We will give it to you for free. How can these poor people comply if they cannot afford to buy face masks? Face masks damaged for being used frequently,” Duterte said.
“So it's good. I think DILG again and the barangay captains can help us. Same, you have the same data of the people who have been vaccinated,” the President said.
As the number of COVID cases continue to spike on the first year of the first COVID-caused community quarantine, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the Department of Health to empower local governments so that they can level-up in addressing the challenges of controlling the spread of the disease.
He said local governments knew what’s happening on the ground, but they need the support.
“We’ve been saying this for the longest time: DOH has to enable LGUs rather than keep the power to themselves,” said Pangilinan.
He said the DOH should enable and provide and designate and deputize and give powers to the locals so that they can really confront this challenge.
Aside from quarantining, he said local governments must be empowered to do mass testing, tracing, isolation, and vaccination.
While there is no herd immunity, Pangilinan cited the need for testing and “I am told we are testing less now than we were six months ago.”
The first lockdown effective March 15, 2020 covered the National Capital Region and the town of Cainta in Rizal until April 14, 2020.
On that first lockdown day, the number of confirmed cases was 29, for a total 140 cases.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros sees the need for ‘standby cash aid’ ready for emergency release as the COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise following the local detection of new, more transmissible COVID-19 variants.
She believes that this can and should be done even if the economic managers still refuse to support Bayanihan 3 bills in the House and Senate.
“Four million Filipinos and their families no longer know where to get money as they lost their jobs. For those who have jobs, it’s likely their number of working hours will be reduced. They need help from the government to help them tide over these localized and granular lockdowns,” she said.
Hontiveros said that unemployment was hitting double digits in regions, like in Calabarzon at 13.1 percent and Bicol at 11.4 percent, both of which were higher than the national unemployment rate.
“The daily increase in the number of new cases is very alarming. We must anticipate and prepare for all possible scenarios, including mobility restrictions, especially now that Metro Manila mayors have already imposed curfews again,” Hontiveros said.
She urged the economic managers to consider giving another round of cash grants to families affected by COVID-19. First is a second round of wage subsidies being proposed by the DOLE. Second is the updating of the roster of DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilya, now that the Listahanan 3 process is almost complete.
The wage subsidy for workers, not receiving wages because their companies are in financial distress, can be implemented even without a Bayanihan 3 bill, in the same manner that the DoF implemented the first round of wage subsidies, she said.
The Pantawid Pamilya budget, on the other hand, can simply be augmented for the hundreds of thousands of new poor who will be eligible for the program by mid April when the LISTAHANAN 3 validation process is completed, she added. Crucial role
Senator Joel Villanueva stressed the crucial role that surveillance testing play in keeping millions of jobs alive amid another surge in cases of COVID-19.
He said regular, random testing in workplaces could detect sources of coronavirus and stem its transmission and risks of workers bringing the virus home.
Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, said that random testing in the workplace continues to be a key element in preventing or slowing the spread of COVID-19 which is on a rampage again. On
March 15 alone, at least 5,408 new cases have been recorded which the Department of Health said were numbers last seen when cases were surging in August 2020.
“The most important occupational safety and health program that we must impose, next to vaccination, is workplace testing,” he said. With PNA