HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III yesterday, in a span of hours, stirred public confusion as he made baffling remarks on the real status of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country.
Duque initially surprised the public with his announcement that the country has flattened the pandemic curve, only to take it back hours later.
Duque’s remarks added to the confusion generated by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año’s pronouncement last Tuesday that cops will go house-to-house in search of COVID-19 patients, a statement that was denied by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday.
In the virtual pre-SONA press forum, Duque said the Philippines has been able to flatten the curve as early as last April.
“First of all, we have successfully flattened the curve since April,” Duque told members of the media, citing the extended case doubling time for COVID-19 cases since the start of the outbreak.
“The metric for saying, arriving at that conclusion of flattening the curve is actually if the case doubling time of the COVID-19 infection has actually become longer. It used to have a very short doubling time at about 2.5 days during the initial phase of the pandemic,” said Duque.
Minutes later, the health chief clarified his initial statement by tweeting that he meant that the country has already “bent” the curve.
“This means we bent the curve in April after the March ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), but we are seeing an increase in cases due to the expanded testing capacity and community transmission as we allow movement of people,” said Duque via Twitter (@SecDuque).
Once again, Duque cited the improvement in the country’s case doubling time as the reason for the bending the curve.
“Our case doubling time in April passed the 3-day doubling time mark. Now, July 15, it is at 8 days case doubling time, past the 7-day doubling time mark,” explained Duque.
Case doubling time refers to the number of days it takes for the COVID-19 cases to double in number.
Hours later, and after getting flak for his surprise statement, Duque again modified his statement.
In a statement read by DOH undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a televised press briefing late Wednesday, Duque said the Philippines has been able to flatten the curve but that he meant that it was only “for a time”.
“I would like to clarify my statement made earlier during the Pre-SONA (forum) on flattening the curve. Our ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) in March served its purpose. We flattened the curve for a time until we started opening up,” said Vergeire quoting Duque.
Duque’s statement shocked Senate majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri who said: “OMG! Dear Secretary Duque, with all due respect, please tell us what curve is flattening? Is it the fact that the cases in April were at an average of two hundred a day as compared to the daily average of over a thousand cases today? Or is it the fact that we will soon be number one in South East Asia in terms of COVID cases? The only thing that is flat are the backs of all the poor patients in fully occupied COVID wards all around Metro Manila fighting for their lives! Wag magbulag-bulagan (do not turn a blind eye) and act to stop the surge instead of imagining it.”
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara rejected Duque’s claim: “Hardly. If he said that three weeks ago, I might have believed him but the hospital COVID wards are filling up again. There seem to be less people dying but cases seem to be on the up. The WHO said a few months ago that there can be no real solution if we are not candid enough to admit the true state of affairs.”
Año insisted family members who are COVID-19 positive should be isolated and placed in quarantine facilities to stop community transmission of the virus.
Año said Republic Act 11332, or the law on reporting of communicable diseases, mandates the confinement of persons who have been diagnosed of communicable diseases in isolation or quarantine facilities to control the spread of the disease.
COVID-19, he stressed, is a communicable disease.
“This is within the bounds of law,” Año said.
Año said the law likewise authorizes the arrest of persons who refuse to cooperate with government authorities and insist on staying at home, exposing family and house members to risk of contamination of the infectious virus.
Penalty for violation of RA 11332 ranges from one to six months of imprisonment and a fine of P20,000 to P50,000.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles has said that mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients who are on home quarantine will be moved to government facilities.
Yesterday, Año said barangay health workers and local government officials will lead the extraction of patients from their homes and will be backed by policemen for security purposes.
Año said policemen will merely provide assistance to local and barangay health executives, dismissing criticisms that the move is a form of militarization. He said the military does not have any role in the process.
Año reiterated that COVID-19 patients, especially in areas where there are surges in infection, will be moved to government facilities if they do not satisfy three conditions – a separate room, a separate comfort room for patients, and there should be no elderly, persons with co-morbidities, and vulnerable persons in the house.
“We did this in Cebu, we’re doing it in Navotas – all positives are brought to isolation facilities. Those who will only be allowed to go on home quarantine are those who will satisfy the three conditions,” he said.
Health Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said there nothing wrong with implementation of the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) “Oplan Kalinga” program, which she said has long been implemented through the Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs).
“We have been doing this ever since. The DILG, through the local governments, the BHERTs, have been authorized to monitor developments in their respective areas. The BHERTs have long been in charge of monitoring these patients, who are undergoing home quarantine,” Vergeire said.
Roque denied that the government will do “house to house” visits as part of its COVID pandemic policy, but said it is prepared to fetch patients who would “surrender” and voluntarily have themselves isolated and treated in government facilities to avoid transmitting the disease to their loved ones, family and community.
“We don’t have a provision for house-to-house. Only the political critics of the government, again, weaponizing this very important task of tracing. They will not go house-to-house,” Roque said in an interview with ANC.
A number of senators yesterday weighed in on the government’s plan to do a house-to-house search called Oplan Kalinga to seclude asymptomatic COVID-19 individuals who do not have their own facilities to self-quarantine. – With Victor Reyes, Jocelyn Montemayor, and Raymond Africa