MANILA (UPDATE) - Communications Secretary Martin Andanar on Saturday called on the public to remain calm and avoid discriminating against anyone amid the rapid spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
"As the issue of a viral outbreak affects everyone, let us not engage in discriminatory behavior, nor act with any bias towards our fellowmen. The reality is everyone is susceptible to the virus," he said in a statement.
Andanar called on Filipinos to empathize with those at their most vulnerable, instead of stigmatizing them.
"We should not let fear turn us against one another, especially if these fears are unfounded," he said, adding that the Philippine government is working with foreign authorities to contain the outbreak.
The Philippines on Thursday confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus - a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan, China, epicenter of the respiratory contagion, who arrived in the Philippines on Jan. 21.
Philippine health authorities also continue to monitor 31 people suspected of carrying the strain, wherein 25 of them are admitted in hospitals around the country.
On Friday, Malacañang announced the Philippines would bar travelers from Hubei province in China, where Wuhan is located. Several confirmed cases have been reported across the province, where expanding lockdowns are being enforced by Chinese authorities.
As of Saturday, some 259 people have died of the acute respiratory disease in China, while nearly 12,000 have been infected.
Amid stricter port controls in the Philippines and public vigilance against sickness, some members of the Filipino-Chinese community have expressed lament at how the health scare has fueled xenophobia towards the Chinese.
“It’s very sad. Instead that we stand as one against this virus, it's becoming divisive,” anti-crime crusader and Chinese-Filipino figure Teresita Ang-See told ABS-CBN News on Friday.
She added: "There should be no division between the Tsinoy from new immigrants and old immigrants."
FILIPINO-CHINESE TRADERS CAUTION VS XENOPHOBIA
The Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc (FFCCCII) president Henry Lim Bon Liong also urged the public to avoid expressing outright anti-Chinese sentiment.
"Spreading fake news and racist, xenophobic messages can be more dangerous than the virus itself due to their negative effects of causing confusion, fears, rancor and instability," he said in a statement released Friday.
China is the Philippines' traditional ally and long-standing trade partner, Liong said.
"Instead of racist attacks by some quarters, we should commend the China government’s transparency, for their remarkable political will and their immense sacrifices of imposing a lockdown on Wuhan City and its neighbors which involve millions of people," he added.
Andanar, meanwhile, appealed to the public not to hoard face masks, saying this "creates unnecessary scarcity" and that the limited supply should be reserved for health workers.
"Let us not resort to panic, sow fear-mongering or spread misinformation. Solidarity, empathy, and cooperation are what we need to successfully take actions that will overcome this health concern," Andanar said.