Duterte declares public health emergency

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    President Duterte at the press conference on COVID-19. (Screengrab from RVTM)

    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday formally declared a state of public health emergency throughout the Philippines in a bid to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in light of the confirmed local transmission in the country.

    Malacanang released a copy of Proclamation Order 922 that was signed by the President on March 8, explaining that the “outbreak of COVID-19” constitutes an emergency that threatens national security and requires a whole-of-government response that is aligned with the “Four-Door Framework for COVID-19” of the Department of Health (DOH) and the efforts of all concerned government agencies and local government units.

    The issuance said the declaration is necessary to “facilitate the implementation of the relevant provisions of Republic Act No. 11332 to address the COVID-19 threat, including but not limited to mandatory reporting, intensify government response and measures, and enforce quarantine and disease control prevention measures.”

    It will enable government agencies and Local Government Units to immediately act to prevent loss of life, utilize appropriate resources to implement urgent and critical measures to contain or prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as mitigate its effects and impact to the community, and prevent serious disruption on the functioning of the government and the community.

    Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Proclamation 922 also directs all government agencies and LGUs to provide full assistance and cooperation, and to mobilize the necessary resources to undertake critical, urgent and appropriate response and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the Covid-19 threat.

    He said the issuance also allows Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to tap and seek the help of the PNP and other law enforcement agencies to provide assistance in addressing the COVID-19 threat, when needed.

    Panelo said the order also urged all citizens, residents, tourists, and establishment owners to comply with the directives. He said the state of public health emergency will remain in force and effect until lifted by the President.

    In a briefing in Malacanang, Duque said the declaration of the public health emergency and the raising of the heath alert level to code red stemmed from the confirmed case of local transmission in the country.

    Duque said the patient, who contracted the disease despite having no history of travel abroad, is currently “guarded” and considered a “critical case.”

    He said the elderly male individual has pre-existing medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, also enlargement of the prostate and kidneys problems.

    “So, we’re doing everything to save the life of this patient. But you must be aware that for critical cases, the time it takes for them to recover is rather extended from anywhere three to six weeks. So, they – he will stay in the hospital and hopefully in the coming days we will see more improvements,” he added.

    Duque said government has already deployed teams to do contract tracing to identify the people that the individual had been in contact with.

    METRO LOCKDOWN URGED

    At the House, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda called for a weeklong shutdown of Metro Manila as a measure to contain COVID-19.

    “During epidemics, everyone is a suspect, thus the need for isolation shock,” said Salceda, the chair of the House committee on ways and means who used to be an economic manager during the Arroyo administration.

    Salceda said classes should be suspended nationwide “to slow down the virus and mitigate any potential for mass transmission.”

    He said there should a work stoppage for one week in Metro Manila, no bus trips, no domestic flights and no expressway trips by closing both the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), including all railways.

    Salceda said citizens will have to stay at home for a “grand staycation” and the only exceptions to temporary entry ban to NCR would be food, medicines and health professions.

    “A lockdown of NCR should not be off the table if needed to slow down transmission of COVID-19. The costs of mass community transmission far outweigh the economic losses arising from preemptive actions. Zero casualty doctrine should extend to all emergencies, especially health emergencies,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero of 1-Pacman party-list urged the Senate to pass pending tax bills before the adjournment on Wednesday to offset the negative impact of the COVID-19 on the economy.

    The head of the Party-list Coalition said among the revenue proposals pending in the Senate since last year are the draft Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Rationalization Act or CITIRA and another bill that would simplify taxation on financial instruments and reduce the 20-percent final tax on interest and other forms of passive income to just 15 percent.

    Romero said CITIRA would benefit a lot of companies, since it would cut corporate income tax from 30 percent to 20 percent over 10 years.

    “This proposal would be particularly advantageous to millions of small and medium-scale businesses that are now paying 30 percent. The present law puts this sector of the economy at par with large corporations, including those enjoying tax incentives from the government. With CITIRA, all would pay the same reduced rates,” he said.

    Romero said among the small and medium enterprises that would benefit from lower corporate income tax are those in the local tourism industry, one of the sectors of the economy bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 outbreak.

    “A 1-2-percentage-point reduction in their income tax would be a big relief for them and could prompt them to retain their workers until COVID-19 is put under control here and globally,” he said.

    Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo filed a resolution urging airlines and travel agencies to allow free cancellation and rebooking of flights and tours to and in countries with confirmed cases of the virus.

    “If passengers who have booked flights to these destinations are allowed to refund or rebook their tickets without any penalty, we may be able to effectively and continuously prevent the spread of this deadly disease in our country,” she said in Resolution No. 749.

    She said if booking sites like Agoda.com and Booking.com allow free cancellation and rebooking, she does not see any reason why airline and travel companies cannot do the same especially for flights booked through the Internet.

    NO LOCKDOWN,
    NO CLASS SUSPENSION

    Duque said that as of March 8, there are 105,586 cases of COVID-19 that has spread to 101 countries.

    He said the national government respects the decision of local governments if they feel they should implement a lockdown or suspend the classes in their areas.

    Duque, however, believes that despite the Code Red level, there is no need to lock down Metro Manila at the moment.

    Duque said the option to suspend the classes is also best left to the local government officials unless announced by the national government.

    Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua said all regional activities involving learners and/or teachers requiring travel and congregation of various schools and/or division, including the Regional Palaro (Regional Athletic Meets) are suspended.

    However, the National Schools Press Conference and the National Festival of Talents are not included in the latest DepEd order.

    Meanwhile, Marikina City will have no classes until Wednesday, March 11; Caloocan to classes March 10-11; Manila no classes from March 9-15; Cainta, Rizal no classes until March 10, and San Mateo, Rizal, no classes from March 10 to 13.

    Sen. Imee Marcos, chair of Senate committee on economic affairs, yesterday slammed the DOH for having only around 2,000 test kits for COVID-19.

    Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, of the Research Institute on Tropical Disease, disclosed during yesterday’s hearing in relation to the economic effects of the COVID 19 and the termination of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement, that the RITM is requesting for an additional P43 million to funds its “various needs,” including the purchase of COVID 19 test kits.

    Dr. Althea de Guzman of DOH said 4,500 extraction kits from the World Health Organization will be arriving, good only for 2,000 individuals. – With Wendell Vigilia, Raymond Africa, and Noel Talacay