MANILA (UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday sought to allay fears over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has spread from China, killing over 300 people and infecting several thousand others.
"Everything is well in the country. There's nothing really to be extra-scared of that coronavirus thing," Duterte said in a televised news conference from Malacanang following an emergency meeting with key members of his Cabinet and the World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the country.
The Philippines has reported two confirmed cases of the 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, involving two Chinese tourists who came from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus originated. One of the patients died on Saturday.
Health officials said Monday it has probed 80 people so far for possible contraction of the 2019-nCoV ARD, although only two have yielded positive results. Thirty tested negative, while the results for the remaining 48 are still pending.
Duterte said there is no need for the public to be hysterical, as it did when initial reports of the new coronavirus were coming out, saying people can go to the hospital and get treatment.
He said he himself is not even scared to shake hands with people.
The President said similar to the previous spread of HIV and SARS-CoV, the current problem will also just "die a natural death" even as he acknowledged efforts to reach a solution for it.
"But it would… Kagaya ng SARS, I assure you even without the vaccines it will just die a natural death. Apparently itong mga ganito, mga virus, ano ‘to HIV. Wala --- nawala na. Meron, kokonti na lang," Duterte said.
He also described the progress in medicine now to be far different from before.
"May mga ganun but it will die a natural death. Ito matatapos rin ito. But would it worsen in the meantime? Maybe. But you know the progress of medical science now is far too different from --- of the yesteryears. Noon hindi pa masyado. But we have powerful medicines now that --- even cancer is treatable now," Duterte said.
Duterte, who has forged closer ties with China since assuming the presidency in 2016, warned against what he described as xenophobic behaviors, citing reports of some driving Chinese people away from the country and blaming them for the spread of the disease.
"It's not only a case of bad taste. But it is not good for us Filipinos to be saying that. Remember that there are now so many thousands of Filipinos in China," he said, adding "China is kind to us."
"Stop this xenophobia thing about… Kasi ang gusto mong masabi nila na ‘yung la --- ito ngayon they are blaming the Chinese na galing sa China. It can always… How would you call this? Incubate in some other places. It happened in China on --- at least the first, ‘yun lang. But that is not the fault of anybody. Not of the Chinese, not of the Filipinos, not of anyone," Duterte also said.
He assured the Chinese government of the Philippines' help.
Duterte said government is addressing such issues as adequacy of supply of face masks, the travel of people between the Philippines and China and its territories, and a quarantine place.
The chief executive, at one point, praised Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for being "hardworking" and "sincere in his job."
"This I can assure you. This government is not going to hide anything," he said, adding any actions the country will take will be in conformity with the World Health Organization's regulations.
The WHO has declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak as a global health emergency. The international body said the new strain of virus is likely to have been sourced from an animal in a live animal market in China.