DOH had 'gaps' in communicating info on new coronavirus: ex-health chief


Posted at Feb 04 2020 09:40 AM | Updated as of Feb 04 2020 09:55 AM

Students wear face masks as they enter a school in Brgy Batasan Hills, Quezon City on February 3, 2020, amid the threat of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) after the Philippines recorded its first new coronavirus-related death over the weekend. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines has a "strong health system" but had "gaps" in relaying information to the public about the new coronavirus, a former health secretary said Tuesday.

The country is equipped "infrastructure-wise" to handle the new strain of virus but communicating information about it was a problem, according to Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin.

"Yes we are prepared, we have the technical capability but the button to push that somehow came late," she told ANC's Early Edition.

"There were gaps in conveying the information, especially on laymanizing it and the number of people that were tasked to help."

There should be a minimum of 3 to 5 spokespersons assigned to answer questions from the regions, Garin said.

The Department of Health should also "immediately refute" misinformation on social media, she added.

Several schools in Manila had earlier suspended classes following a false report of an alleged novel coronavirus case in Binondo, Manila.

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The Philippines so far has 2 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus with 1 fatality, the first outside epicenter China.

It has since prohibited travel to and from China, where the virus has claimed more than 400 lives and infected nearly 20,000 people.

Garin said travel restrictions are not recommended by the World Health Organization in areas not in the epicenter of the outbreak.

The former health chief cited the agency's handling of patients with the Middle East Respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), who were not restricted to travel but constantly informed officials of their whereabouts.

"Usually too much travel restriction, maghahanap yan ng paraan just to get to a country, espcially if you have a family. So ang nangayayari di mo tuloy nababantayan nang maigi," she said.

"Travel bans in terms of emergencies like this and you are not on ground zero, travel restrictions are actually a political decision, not a scientific decision. Because viruses hindi sila agad-agad natatanggal ng travel restriction except if you’re in the epicenter."