President Rodrigo Duterte will issue an executive order today (Monday) that will strengthen the government’s arsenal against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to include price controls, faster release of disaster reduction funds, and even mandatory quarantine, if it becomes necessary, among others.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government is also counting on Congress to hasten the approval of a P2-billion supplemental budget to help stem the local transmission of the deadly disease.
“It is being readied,” Panelo said on Sunday as to the request for additional funding.
The Department of Health has about P530 million in its budget for the entire year or a fourth of the proposed supplement funding.
On Saturday, President Duterte declared a state of public health emergency following the Department of Health’s confirmation that the country has now reached the localized transmission stage.
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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the public health emergency declaration “would be crucial to facilitate the sufficient and immediate access to funding, particularly for local government units,
and ease processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions, among others.”
“It would also put to rest questions on whether an automatic price freeze on medicines and medical supplies may be made by the DoH and the Department of Trade and Industry,” he added.
The country has been placed under Code Red, Sub-Level 1 over the weekend.
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Once there is sustained community transmission or an increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established, Code Red, Sub-Level 2 will be raised and the strategy will shift from intensive contract tracing to community-level quarantine or lockdown, and possible suspension of work or school.
Duque, for his part, fended off accusations that the government was underreporting cases of COVID-19 or concealing significant information about the disease.
Duque was responding to a comment from Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who said Saturday that the health department could be underreporting the number of cases.
“Do we have enough testers to cover a decent number of our population, especially in the more vulnerable areas of the country? If no, the DOH may be underreporting, albeit unintentionally,” Lacson said in a statement.
But in an interview over radio dzMM, Duque rejected Lacson’s suggestion.
“They are saying there’s underreporting. Remember that the DOH also has its limitations,” Duque said without elaborating.
Duque said the DOH also should not be blamed for hiding the name of the Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) in Greenhills, San Juan, which treated the fifth confirmed COVID-19 case.
“That was not our intention. We won’t benefit from doing that, but it was (CSMC) that made the request [to keep their name out of the reports],” said Duque.
The fifth confirmed COVID-19 case was initially admitted at CSMC before he was transferred to Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City.
He also chided CSMC for asking they not be named, then eventually admitting their involvement.
“That’s not right. This is really very unprofessional…,” Duque said.
In a statement, CSMC said that they initially “took care” of the country’s fifth confirmed case – the 62-year-old Filipino who has no history of travel abroad. His wife, who was also sent to RITM, became the sixth confirmed case.
On Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the DOH should not withhold information from the public except those pertaining to private and confidential information.
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Drilon said “there should be transparency in the handling of COVID-19 pursuant to the law in order to avoid panic and misinformation.”
“To me, the public should be informed. That is an obligation of the government to the people, to be open and transparent. What we need to protect is the private information because of the stigma that comes with being diagnosed of having COVID-19,” Drilon said.
But Duque asked the public for understanding, since the DOH is swamped with tasks, including the quarantine of hundreds of Filipinos repatriated from Wuhan, China, as well as Japan.
“Let’s not forget the difficulties faced by our DOH personnel who are making sacrifices... It’s easy to criticize, engage in a blame game. But let’s unite in this difficult situation,” he said.
Duque said there is a global shortage of re-agents, materials and chemicals needed to test for COVID-19.
“Who doesn’t want to test everyone? If it’s only possible, it would be good test all 100 million Filipinos. But the reality on the ground is, it’s not feasible,” he said.
He said the country’s current supply of testing kits is sufficient, with the help of the World Health Organization. At present, he said the DOH has the capacity for 4,500 tests.
“And then, South Korea will give 500 additional testing kits to help us,” he said.
Drilon expressed dismay that the DOH has not yet issued the implementing rules and regulations for Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
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The law provides for mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases and health events of public health concern, adding that the law could help establish the protocol and right procedures in handling COVID-19.
Meanwhile, some Filipino crew members of a cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco, California tested positive for COVID-19, the vessel’s operator said Sunday (Manila time).
“Filipinos are a valuable part of our crew on board the ships. Some of those individuals who tested positive are from the Philippines,” said Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer of cruise operator Carnival Corp.
The Grand Princess ship carrying some 3,500 crew and passengers, was scheduled to dock in San Francisco, California on Saturday after a 14-day cruise. It was held off the coast since Wednesday after two passengers who were on a previous voyage contracted the virus. One of them later died.
Tarling said they are “well at the moment and being isolated in their cabins” and being cared for.
However, he did not say how many Filipinos tested positive for the pathogen that has already infected some 100,000 people and killed more than 3,500 people worldwide, mostly in China. The ship has over 500 Filipino crew members.
The Grand Princess also has Filipino guests, but they are not among the two guests who had caught the new coronavirus, said Jan Swartz, group president of Princess Cruises and Carnival Australia.
The Grand Princess belongs to Princess Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corp. It is the same company that operated the Diamond Princess – the coronavirus-stricken ship held off Japan last month from which more than 700 people tested positive and six died.
Eighty Filipino crew members of Diamond Princess caught the disease. Many of them have recovered and some have been allowed to return to the Philippines, the Health Department earlier said.
Panelo said the country’s economic managers were ready as well to respond to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
“That problem is not local, it’s international, global, so we have to face it,” he said.
Losses are expected but he said Duterte’s economic team is “trying to do something about it.”
“Saying we can stop the losses, I don’t think we can,” he said.
Earlier, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said Duterte will be visiting Boracay on March 12 to join efforts in lifting the public’s mood to travel around the Philippines.
Aside from promotions, the Chief Executive will also inspect what has been done on the island since it was rehabilitated.
On Friday, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said the Philippine economy could lose between $669 million and $1.94 billion and lose 87,000 to 252,000 jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In a report titled “The Economic Impact of the COVID-19 Outbreak on Developing Asia,” the ADB said that among its member-countries, expected to be “significantly affected” by the disease’s economic impact are those “with strong trade and production linkages with China.”
China was the Philippines’ top trade partner last year.
In related developments:
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso said Sta. Ana Hospital recently put up an infectious disease control center to augment other similar facilities in the country. In a Facebook post Saturday night, Domagoso said he has inspected the newly-created Manila Center for Infectious Disease Control located in Sta Ana Hospital. Physicians from six hospitals who are experts on infectious diseases will be mobilized for the MCIDC, Domagoso said.
Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo on Sunday urged Congress to exempt face masks, sanitizers and similar protective goods from import duties and local taxes to assure adequate supply, stabilize prices and avoid hoarding at this time of crisis.” She said there is a need to flood the market with these goods so prices would go down and unscrupulous traders would be discouraged from hoarding them and selling them later at prohibitive prices. With Rio N. ArajaREAD: Virus prompts who to raise risk leve
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