By Genalyn Kabiling, Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Chito Chavez, and Hannah Torregoza
The Philippines continues to deal with the first wave of the coronavirus cases and will take measures to prevent a second wave or another sharp surge of infections, Malacañang declared Thursday following a different assessment made by the country’s top health official.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made a clarification on the country’s coronavirus situation and asked for public apology and understanding if any conflicting statement from some officials caused undue alarm. He assured that the country has actually started to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus infections this month.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in a testimony at the Senate, had earlier claimed that the country was actually now on the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, an announcement that surprised some lawmakers and the public.
“The President is right that we must take steps to avoid a second wave. We are now on the first wave… A wave rises and falls,” Roque said during a televised press briefing at the Palace.
“To our countrymen,please bear with us. The President already made a statement. We must take steps to avoid a second wave. We apologize if you were alarmed but the truth is science and reading waves are important so we will know the appropriate response. Whether it be a wavelet or a first wave, it is important to avoid a second wave or an increase in cases of infections,” he said.
Roque, however, clarified that Duque was not necessarily wrong but only gave a “different opinion” of the coronavirus data in the country. He said like in the practice of law, medicine may have one science and data but yield differing interpretations.
Earlier, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, and Senator Panfilo Lacson disputed separately Duque’s pronouncement, saying the Philippines is not yet in the second wave of COVID-19.
In an interview during the sendoff of the first batch of those who availed themselves of the BalikProbinsiya Program on Wednesday, Medialdea said President Duterte did not announce that the country is already seeing the second wave of the disease.
“That, we will have to see. Because as far as I know, wala pa tayo sa second wave (we’re not in the second wave yet),” he said.
“Dinadasal natin, malakas tayo siguro magdasal. ‘Wag natin iexpect, ‘wag natin asahan pwede ba? Mahirapan tayo (Maybe because we’re praying hard that’s why it’s not here yet. Let’s not expect or wait for it. It will be difficult for us),” he added.
Like Medialdea, Año rejected Duque’s pronouncement, saying the COVID-19 cases being recorded are still in the first wave.
Año, in an interview over GMA News on Thursday, said the InterAgency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF) will deliberate on the authenticity of the reported second wave of COVID-19 cases at their meeting.
“Regarding sa second wave, pag-uusapan talaga ‘yan ng IATF (This will be discussed in the IATF meeting),” Año said.
Lacson, in an interview over ANC, also expressed disbelief at Duque’s announcement.
“Not only do I not agree. But medical experts have also expressed their disagreement with the statement attributed to Secretary Duque that we are now into the second wave, because we have not yet got past the first wave. So how can we say we are already confronting the second wave?” Lacson asked.
“Definitely, we are not. If the curve continues to go up, and we are basing it even on inaccurate data,” he said.
“If we base our decision in inaccurate data, chances are we’ll be coming up with wrong decisions or wrong conclusions,” he lamented.
On Wednesday, Duque to the Senate that the Philippines is already riding the second wave of COVID-19, apparently referring to the earlier opinion of Dr. John Wong, who is working with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) sub-technical working group on data analytics.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also negated Duque’s claim, saying such pronouncement only heightens the public’s unease over the government’s capability to address the COVID-19 crisis.
“Nakakagulat (It’s surprising). I do not know what is the point of it. It serves no purpose, except to heighten the tension. It is not true. Talagang maraming pagkukulang (There are really many lapses),” Drilon said in a DZRH radio interview on Thursday.
“The confidence of the people on the IATF and the government in general, to contain the virus is one of the factors to prevent the spread of the virus.”
“Kung nakikita mo na mali-mali ang data at hindi nagkakasundo kung ano ang standard, talagang nawawalan ng tiwala ang taumbayan sa kakayahan ng pamahalaan na ma-contain yung virus na ito (If you see them giving out inaccurate data and they do not agree on any standard, the public will really lose faith on the government’s capability to contain this virus),” Drilon stressed.
Among the lapses committed by the DOH, Drilon noted, include the basic data on the mass testing.
During the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the government’s COVID-19 response, Duque claimed that the government targets to test 30,000 individuals per day. But he was later on corrected by Vivencio Dizon, National Action Plan Against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer who said that the target is 50,000 tests per day.
“These are basic information which should be at his fingertips,” Drilon said, adding that “ignorance and incompetence are deadlier than COVID-19.
Roque explained that the country’s first wave of COVID infections started with the arrival of three Chinese nationals infected with the illness last January.
He said the COVID-19 cases ballooned in succeeding few months but started to decrease this May. A wave, he said, is defined as the number of cases over a period of time of community acquired cases.
“Bagamat hindi pa po fully flattened curve, nagsisimula ang pag-flatten ang curve (Although we have not fully flattened the curve, the flattening of the curve is beginning),” he said.
Roque said he consulted three health experts namely doctors Esperanza Cabral, Ernesto Domingo, and Minguita Padilla on the matter.
The Palace official also tried to downplay the alleged conflicting statements among government officials, saying they remain united in preventing the spread of the disease.
“Medyo sintonado lang ang isa pero okay naman ang orchestra (One may be out of tune but the orchestra is still good),” he said.
“Pero ito naman ay paglilinaw. Maliit na bagay lang ito dahil hindi naman pinagtatalunan kung dapat iwasan ‘yung pagkakahawa ng mas maraming numero ng ating mga kababayan. It is just on the terminology on when the big wave is coming. Nagkakaisa tayo na dapat maiwasan yung panibagong napakadaming numero ng magkakasakit ngayong bahagyang napababa na natin ang numero (But this is just a clarification. This is a small matter because we are not bickering on the need to prevent the increase of number of people getting infected. It is just on the terminology on when the big wave is coming. We are united that we must avoid the surge in cases of infections now that we have slightly decreased the number),” he said.
Roque admitted that the President received no information from Duque about the supposed second wave pronouncement. He said they follow a protocol of relaying information to the President who will then either personally announce to the public or let the spokesman’s office do the task. “Hindi po dumaan sa protocol na ‘yan (It did not go through that protocol),” he said.
Asked about the President’s reaction to the latest situation, Roque said he has not yet seen Duterte but he has already coordinated with Medialdea and Senator Christopher Go.