Malacañang has warned the public against hoarding of food and other essential goods following reports of the rising number of confirmed coronavirus i
n the country—52 after dusk Thursday night—which sparked panic buying at supermarkets
At the same time, the Department of Trade and Industry has warned it will file criminal charges against people who are overpricing and those hoarding medical devices and products like alcohol, medicines, masks of N-88, N-95, other similar face masks, alcohol/sanitizers, and medical devices.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said: “We have recommended to the President the issuance of an Executive Order for easier procedure of filing of cases and imposition of stiffer penalties for profiteering.
“The proposed EO will arm the DTI together with the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, and National Bureau of Investigation with visitorial powers to address the issue on prices and supply of medical products.”
In a statement, Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo said people who hoard supplies of basic commodities over the COVID-19 threat would be arrested.
“There is no need to hoard goods. There is no need to be afraid. The Department of Trade and Industry guarantees that we have sufficient goods,” he said.
Warning vs. hoarders
“The Office of the President hereby gives warning to those hoarding vital commodities, which create a hike in the prices, as well as selling them beyond their regular prices, that their actions will be dealt with accordingly in pursuance of public safety and order,” Panelo said.
“Those who unscrupulously take advantage of the health crisis will also be arrested and dealt with in accordance with law.”
Meanwhile, the Manila International Airport Authority reported that Xiamen Air went on flights scheduled to and from Xiamen on Thursday, despite the travel restriction imposed by the Philippine government in connection with the coronavirus disease outbreak which rippled out from Wuhan, China.
The MIAA Media Affairs Division said Xiamen Air flight MF 819 from Xiamen to Manila at 8:20 pm Thursday and its return flight to Xiamen at 9:20 p.m. went according to schedule, but it stopped short of saying whether the flights carried Filipino or non-Chinese passengers.
Last month, the Philippine government imposed a ban on travel of Filipinos to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau, along with restrictions barring foreign nationals from China from entering the Philippines (except for those holding Philippine-issued Permanent Resident Visas) following the COVID-19 outbreak.
The President has instructed the DTI, Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to monitor the price of face masks and alcohol to prevent cases of hoarding.
Since the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 infection in the country last February, there have been multiple reports of panic buying of surgical masks, alcohol, and vitamin C in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Public health emergency
Aside from the supply of alcohol, canned goods, vegetables, and meat products almost run out in supermarkets in Metro Manila.
Last Sunday, Duterte declared a state of public health emergency
throughout the Philippines, allowing the government to impose price freeze on all basic commodities for 60 days.
Under the Consumer Act or Republic Act 7394, overpricing of face masks may be considered as an unfair and unconscionable sales act or practice since it involves taking advantage of consumers in this time of need.
The Price Act also considers this as an act of profiteering.
Both of these laws provide criminal and administrative penalties and sanctions.
Under the Consumer Act, if found to have committed an unfair and unconscionable sales act or practice, an administrative sanction of up to P300,000.00 may be imposed and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
For profiteering, the Price Act provides for the imposition of fine of up to P2,000,000.00 and/or imprisonment of up to 15 years.
The DTI continues to intensify its monitoring and enforcement efforts to ensure the reasonableness of prices and sufficiency of supply of goods in the market.
This includes the basic necessities as price freeze is in effect throughout the country following the declaration of State of Public Health Emergency.
During price freeze, prices of basic goods are frozen at their prevailing prices for 60 days which means that no price movement is allowed within this period.
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Consumers are enjoined to report hoarding, profiteering, panic buying, and any other illegal act of price manipulation through the One-DTI (1-384) Hotline or send an email to [email protected]
According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, three additional persons—two elderly and a 26-year-old – had brought the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 52.
He said the DOH and deployed surveillance teams, in cooperation with concerned Local Government Units, were now conducting extensive information-gathering and contact tracing activities on the new cases.
“So we continually ask the public to cooperate and help us in the investigation and contact tracing activities. Individuals with history of known exposure to a positive patient and/or travel to areas with local transmission, within and outside the country, presenting with mild symptoms are advised to self-isolate and be home quarantined for 14 days,” said Duque.
He noted that those presenting severe and critical symptoms need to be immediately admitted to health facilities.
“Let us be responsible with our own health, family’s well being, and that of our community.” also said Duque as he described as still relatively low the number of confirmed cases in the Philippines as compared to other countries.
2 deaths confirmed
Meanwhile, the DOH also confirmed the death of the confirmed COVID-19 patient with ID PH35.
This brings the total number of dead in the country to two, including the first COVID-19 death in the Philippines
last February 1. The first fatality was a Chinese from Wuhan, China.
PH35, who experienced symptoms on February 29, was admitted last March 5, 2020 at the Manila Doctors’ Hospital, and swabbed for testing last March 8.
The patient who tested positive last March 11 passed away around noon of the same day due to severe pneumonia.
The patient had existing medical conditions, namely hypertension and diabetes mellitus. PH35 was admitted together with her husband PH34 who remains confined in Manila Doctors Hospital.
“Our recent mortality have underlying medical conditions, making the patient extremely vulnerable to COVID-19,” said Duque.
“So we reiterate that the best way to protect yourself from the disease is to keep yourself healthy and practice general preventive measures: proper handwashing, cough etiquette, and social distancing,” he added.
Available data show that elderly people (average of 66 years) and those with underlying medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease, and immunosuppression are vulnerable to this disease.
“We further urge those who are immunocompromised and are with existing health conditions to be more vigilant and avoid crowded areas and mass gatherings,” he added.
A total of 99 overseas Filipino workers or those who were abroad positive for COVID-19 as of March 11.
Of the total, 27 were admitted while the remaining 72 either recovered or were discharged from health facilities.
They were in Japan aboard M/V Diamond Princess, USE, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United States-M/V Grand Princess.
Six foreigners who travelled to the Philippines were confirmed with COVID-19.
They were two Japanese—44 year male and 38-year old male; Australia—60-year-old; Singaporean, 40-year-old male; and South Korean—female, age not known.
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