MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte "has agreed" to declare a state of public health emergency after the health department confirmed the first case of local transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said Saturday.
"Pursuant to the recommendation of the DOH and my suggestion as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to issue a declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency due to the confirmation of a local transmission of COVID-19 in our country," he said.
This followed the Department of Health's (DOH) announcement Saturday that the country's fifth coronavirus case was one of local transmission- meaning he had contracted the virus here- and that his wife had also been infected, becoming the country's sixth case.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had also recommended the declaration to ensure the speedy deployment of resources and to place all medical personnel on alert for coronavirus response.
Duque also said Saturday that Code Red, Sub-level 1 has been raised on the coronavirus alert system, a preemptive move to ensure prompt government response.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte agreed to issue the declaration "after considering all critical factors with the aim of safeguarding the health of the Filipino public."
He also said the Code Red alert the DOH had raised is "a preemptive call to ensure that the entire government and its agents, along with our healthcare providers, can prepare for possible COVID-19 upticks."
The Palace appealed on the public to "exercise utmost prudence and exercise judiciousness as we expect all responsible agencies to continue exhausting all possible measures within their mandate to secure the general welfare of the citizenry."
In a letter to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea dated Feb. 21, when only three COVID-19 cases had been confirmed, Duque already recommended the declaration of a state of public health emergency upon confirmation of local transmission.
He said this "ensures a whole-of-government response," citing a "four-door framework" adopted by the interagency task force on infectious diseases.
"Under this framework, the identification of even one case due to local transmission or sustained community transmission beyond hospital and community surge capacity puts us in the fourth or last door," said Duque in his letter.
This would entail activation of Code Red, which requires that "all human and material resources must be made available for duty and deployment."
He said a declaration of public health emergency "would be crucial to facilitate the sufficient and immediate access to funding, particularly for local government units, and ease processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions, among others."
"It would also put to rest questions on whether an automatic price freeze on medicines and medical supplies may be made by the DOH and the Department of Trade and Industry," he said.
Government had earlier expressed readiness to respond to an outbreak.
"There is no need for alarm and worry because from the very start we are ready," Panelo said on Friday, after two more cases were confirmed.
"All protocols are established and all [the Department of Health has to do is] to implement them."