Philippine health chief denies underreporting coronavirus status


Posted at Mar 08 2020 12:13 PM | Updated as of Mar 08 2020 05:14 PM

Philippine health chief denies underreporting coronavirus status 1
A Filipino Catholic wearing a protective mask amid a coronavirus scare kneels to pray during a mass on Ash Wednesday at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, Parañaque City, Feb. 26, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File

MANILA — Philippine Health Secretary Francisco Duque III denied Sunday that government is underreporting the status of the novel coronavirus situation in the country, which has so far recorded six confirmed cases, including an incident of local transmission.

"Huwag naman kaming sisisihin na parang meron kaming itinatago. Hindi po ganun ang hangarin namin. Wala kaming makukuha para gawin 'yan, kundi sila (CSMC) rin naman ang nakiusap," Duque told radio DZMM, explaining the circumstances surrounding the disclosure by a private hospital about its initial handling of the country's 5th confirmed case.

(We shouldn't be blamed for seemingly hiding information. That was not our intention. We won't benefit from that; it was (CSMC) that made the request.)

Duque lambasted the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City for defying its own request with government not to be identified, fearing stigma.

"Sinasabi nila, may underreporting. Tandaan ninyo, ang DOH (Department of Health) mayroon ding hangganan iyan," he added.

(They are saying, there's underreporting. Remember that the DOH also has its limitations.)

On Saturday, the health department raised its alert system for the new coronavirus to Code Red sublevel 1 in light of the confirmation of localized transmission in the country's 5th case and the infection of the latter's wife, tagged as the 6th case. Both are already in the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City.

The raising of the alert prompted the agency to recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte for the declaration of a state of public health emergency to facilitate mobilization of resources, ease the procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensify reporting.

Duterte agreed to issue the declaration, both his spokesman and longtime aide said.

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Duque also said there is a "global shortage" of re-agents, materials and chemicals needed to test for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). 

"Sino bang may ayaw i-test lahat? Kung puwede nga lang, i-test mo ang 100 milyong Pilipino. Pero the reality on the ground is hindi kaya," he said. 

(Who doesn't want to test everyone? If it's only possible, it would be good test all 100 million Filipinos. But the reality on the ground is, it's not feasible.)

But he said the country's current supply of testing kits is sufficient, with the help of the World Health Organization.

"Siguro, as of today, meron tayo mga 4,500 testing capacity. Tapos, yung South Korea, magbibigay din ng 500 additional testing kits naman para makatulong mapabilis," he said.

(Maybe, as of today, we have around 4,500 testing capacity. And then, South Korea will give 500 additional testing kits to help us.)

Based on the agency's latest COVID-19 tracker report, as of 12 noon of March 6, the country has 41 patients under investigation spread in eight regions, of whom 23 are in Metro Manila. 


Duque appealed to the public to remember that the DOH is swamped with tasks, including the quarantine of hundreds of Filipinos repatriated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first reported, as well as from Japan.

"Wag din nating kalimutan iyong hirap ng mga kawani ng DOH na nagsasakripisyo, hindi na halos natutulog. Madaling magbatikos, ang dali ng blame game... Pero magkaisa tayo sa mahirap na sitwasyon na ito," he said.

(Let's not forget the difficulties faced by our DOH personnel who are making sacrifices, almost no longer sleeping. It's easy to criticize, engage in a blame game. But let's unite in this difficult situation.)

Across the world, there have been almost 105,000 COVID-19 cases recorded in 95 countries and territories with 3,556 deaths. 

The spread of the virus "can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities," said the World Health Organization. 

China and other countries demonstrate this by "working across society to identify people who are sick, bringing them to care, following up on contacts, preparing hospitals and clinics to manage a surge in patients, and training health workers," WHO said in a statement. 

"Every effort to contain the virus and slow the spread saves lives. These efforts give health systems and all of society much needed time to prepare, and researchers more time to identify effective treatments and develop vaccines," it added. With a report from Agence France-Presse