MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte has declared a public health state of emergency in the Philippines, as the total number of coronavirus cases in the country rose from 10 to 24.
“The outbreak of Covid-19 constitutes an emergency that threatens national security, which requires a government response….and the efforts of all concerned local government units,” the president’s office said on Monday, quoting the newly signed Proclamation 922.
Duterte said a further four cases of the virus have been confirmed, just hours after health authorities announced 10 other new cases, bringing the total to 24. His announcement came after he convened a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The Department of Health said late on Sunday that a 38-year-old Taiwanese man, an 86-year-old American man, and two Filipinos were among those who have tested positive for the virus. The Taiwanese patient, who has been admitted to the Makati Medical Center, has no history of travel outside the country. It is believed he contracted the infection from a Taiwanese visitor to the Philippines who later tested positive for the virus in Taiwan.
The American patient, who is a resident of Marikina City, had traveled to the US and South Korea recently. He was admitted to Medical City hospital in Ortigas, Pasig City.
One of the infected Filipinos is a 32-year-old man who returned from Japan two weeks ago. The coronavirus was diagnosed on Mar. 5 and he is under observation at St. Lukes Medical Center in Taguig City. The other Filipino is a 57-year-old man who has not traveled outside his home country but was in contact with an infected person. He is being treated at St. Lukes Medical Center in Quezon City.
The Department of Heath assured the public that all possible action is being taken to quickly identify and isolate any other infected individuals. The state of emergency will remain in force until it is withdrawn by the president. Based on the directive, anyone suspected of being infected with the virus must undergo thorough medical tests and, if they are positive, agree to be placed under quarantine or face sanctions.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Monday that the decision to declare the state of emergency was prompted by the discovery on Saturday that a 62-year-old man with no history of foreign travel had tested positive for the disease. This was the first case of local transmission within the country. The objective, he added, is to improve access to funding, especially among local government units, for efforts to halt the spread of the disease.
Responding to calls from some for a lockdown of areas with confirmed Covid-19 cases, Duque said “it might be premature….at this point.” Only the sustained spread of the virus in the community would prompt such strong measures, he added.
“We will have to wait until evidence of sustained community transmission is presented,” he said. “That will trigger a community lockdown or community quarantine as one of the interventions.”
Several schools were ordered to close on Monday, and the Department of Education suspended regional and national events, including the Palarong Pambansa, an annual competition in which student athletes from across the country compete in a number of sports.
At least one popular TV show has also taken the initiative by temporarily suspending the use of live studio audiences in an attempt to limit the spread of infection.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Security Group has imposed a “no touch” policy for people in the presence of Duterte in an effort to ensure the president does not become infected.