MALACANANG yesterday urged the public to refrain from panic buying amid fears of a possible lockdown due to the local transmission and increase in the number of confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.
Chief Presidential legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said the Department of Trade and Industry has assured the public that there is ample stock of essential items.
Panelo also warned that panic-buying and hoarding would result in unnecessary price increases.
“The Palace likewise appeals to our people to buy only what they need. There are reports of panic-buying in some supermarkets, groceries or pharmacies. This would only result in undue hoarding and price increases…We cannot stress enough the importance of everyone’s cooperation during this time,” he said.
Panelo also reiterated the public should refrain from spreading unverified information that only causes unnecessary anxiety.
Messages and posts had been circulating through text and social media that the government would soon implement a lockdown in Metro Manila, nearby cities and the provinces of Bulacan and Rizal due to the local transmission of the virus.
Panelo said the public should just guard themselves against the virus by maintaining good hygiene and observing proper etiquette at all times.
He also reminded the public that while everyone is encouraged to consult or see a doctor in case they experience any symptoms of the virus, mild or otherwise, health officials would prioritize those who are considered as “close contacts with symptoms of COVID-19” like persons with a travel history in the last 14 days to countries with local transmission and those who have a history of exposure to patients who have tested positive for the virus.
Panelo said the Office of the President is closely monitoring developments, adding they have received reports about overcrowding in some hospitals and panic-buying in some supermarkets, groceries and pharmacies.
Cabinet Secretary and Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases member Karlo Nograles yesterday said the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) will now shoulder the testing costs for COVID-19 on top of coverage for quarantine and isolation costs.
“The President recognizes that everyone in the country is concerned about COVID-19 and the threat this poses to the health and lives of our loved ones, especially vulnerable individuals like senior citizens. Given this, the last thing we want is for our citizens to worry about medical costs and expenses. Their only concern should be their well-being and the well-being of their families,” said Nograles.
He also assured the public that there is an adequate number of testing kits available to enable government to quickly identify and isolate those infected with the virus.
Sen. Francis Tolentino has filed a bill that will give the Department of Health the power to lock down and suspend classes, among others, in areas infected with COVID-19.
In Senate Bill No. 1408 or the Health Emergency Lockdown Act, Tolentino said the DOH will be empowered, through the Bureau of Quarantine, to impose a lockdown of affected areas and to order the examination of persons to contain the spread of the disease.
He said that under the present law, the Bureau of Quarantine is authorized to conduct examinations of incoming and outgoing vessels, aircraft, cargoes, passenger crew, and all personal effects at ports of entry and exit.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said authorities must pour in additional budget for research and development to fund local scientists’ programs in the fight against COVID-19 and other diseases.
Lacson lamented that the Department of Science and Technology’s annual average budget of P20 billion, which represents only around 0.40 percent of the country’s national budget the last five years, is not enough for research and development projects.
Despite the lack of funds, Lacson said experts from the University of the Philippines managed to develop COVID-19 test kits that cost cheaper than the imported brands.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the defense and military establishment will assist if a lockdown of Metro Manila is ordered.
“If needed and called, the AFP is ready…The police will manage the lockdown, the AFP will assist when needed,” Lorenzana said.
The Philippine Coast Guard said it has activated its Task Force Laban Coronavirus amid the increasing number of COVID-19 cases. PCG ships and other assets are on standby for possible medical evacuation.
President Duterte on Tuesday night said while the virus may linger, he is confident that rich and first-world countries like the United States, Russia and Japan would be able to develop a vaccine to treat it.
“With the great strides now of science, in a matter of days, I’m sure that Russia – well the brightest of the brightest – and America, Japan, they are working overtime to come up with the vaccine. It takes time pero kaya na ng mundo. Kaya na ng mga gobyerno especially those who are rich in technology (the world is capable. The government, especially those who are rich in technology, are capable),” the President said during the 2020 General Assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines.
Duterte reiterated that despite the local transmission in the country, he is not in favor of the “no touch” policy adopted by the Presidential Security Group’s (PSG) to ensure his health and safety.
He said that it is just a matter of “destiny.”
“You cannot avoid just by limiting handshakes. Even if you had five million handshakes, if it’s not yet your time, it’s really not yet your time. That’s all there is to it,” he said.
All government hospitals have been ordered to turn their private rooms into isolation wards, according to Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
“As part of our initial stages of preparation for community transmission, we have ordered all government hospitals to stop accepting private patients temporarily,” said Vergeire. “In turn, they should reserve the private rooms of government hospitals to serve as isolation rooms.”
Vergeire said the move is part of their interventions under a scenario of a sustained community transmission of the virus.
The statement comes amid reports that The Medical City has been refusing suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients as it is already at full capacity.
In a statement, The Medical City admitted to temporarily “closing access” to be able to increase their capacity to handle all types of patients. – With Gerard Naval, Raymond Africa and Victor Reyes