Malacañang on Thursday disputed the claim of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III that the country is in the second wave of its coronavirus pandemic, saying the government and even experts are not even sure if the country has gone past the first wave of COVID-19 infections.
Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said Duque’s statement given during a Senate hearing was his personal opinion and not the government stand because the Philippines is still in the middle of the first wave of the pandemic.
At the Senate hearing Wednesday, Duque said the first wave consisted of the three first cases of COVID-19 in January, all foreigners from Wuhan who traveled to the Philippines.
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But Roque on Thursday said Duque’s statement was based on his own interpretation of the data.
Citing data from health professionals, Roque said the first wave started with the three COVID-19 positive Chinese nationals late January and went on until May when the Philippines started to report a decrease in coronavirus infections.
Roque said the country was just beginning to flatten the curve on new infections.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, an adviser to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, also questioned Duque’s statement, saying the country has not even flattened the curve on the first wave.
Hours after Roque disputed Duque’s assertion, the Department of Health agreed with the Palace assessment.
“Earlier presidential spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that we are still in the first wave of the epidemic. The DOH confirms that yes, we are on the first wave driven by a local community transmission,” Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the DOH Promotion and Communications Service, said during a televised briefing.
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“We apologize for the confusion that this has caused but we hope that this does not in any way distract us from what we really need to do to change the course of this pandemic,” Ho said.
“If you remember, local community transmission happened when we first reported cases of Filipinos without exposure to positive cases or without travel history,” she said in Filipino. “We are still in this wave.”
The presence of community transmission was confirmed in early March and became the basis for raising the alert level in the country.
Ho confirmed that the peak of the current wave happened on March 31 when the country recorded 538 new COVID-19 cases. “Since then the average number of cases has declined to around 220 cases per day,” Ho said.
“This is the reason why we are saying that we have started to flatten the curve,” she added.
Ho reminded the public that they should continue to practice physical distancing and good hygiene to help beat the pandemic.
Others in the Cabinet, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, also disputed Duque’s assertion.
But Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Thursday repeated Duque’s line, saying the first wave was “a minor one” that consisted of only three imported cases from Wuhan.
“This was already considered as a wave by our epidemiologists though we only had three cases before,” Vergeire said.
Dr. John Wong, who is also part of the government task force on COVID-19 sub-technical working group on data and analytics, also held the same view.
The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday reported 213 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total cases to 13,434. Four new deaths brought total fatalities to 846, while 68 patients recovered, bringing total recoveries to 3,000.
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Reacting to Duque’s statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said “ignorance and incompetence are deadlier than COVID-19.”
He said inaccuracies in the data on COVID-19 would erode the government’s credibility in containing the virus.
“I do not know what is the point of it. It serves no purpose except to heighten the tension. It is not true,” he said.
Among the DOH’s many lapses, Drilon said, are the basic data on the mass testing, when Duque claimed that the government aims to conduct 30,000 tests a day only to be corrected later on by Vince Dizon, National Action Plan Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer, who said the target is 50,000 tests per day.
“These are basic information which should be at his fingertips,” he added.
If the officials, who are at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19, cannot agree on basic data, it affects their credibility, he said.
“All these debates on whether to extend or not the lockdown would be solved by having an accurate data, specifically on how many are infected by the disease and their whereabouts. We will keep on imposing a lockdown if we do not know such basic data,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, urged Duque to correct his “ridiculous” statement about the second wave that he said created panic in many groups.
The Philippines admitting that it is on a second wave shows incompetence as it proves that the government was unable to control the first wave, Zubiri said.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also slammed the Health secretary, saying if the first wave was indeed in January, then the quarantine measures imposed in March would have been too late.
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