MANILA (UPDATE) - Several senators have placed themselves on self-quarantine after a resource person who attended a recent Senate committee hearing tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
As of Thursday afternoon, 10 senators have confirmed that they have placed themselves in isolation as a "precautionary measure."
Two others "may" follow suit after they came in contact with senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Nancy Binay, who said Wednesday night they were going on self-quarantine after an attendee in a March 5 hearing was confirmed to be a COVID-19 patient.
Gatchalian chaired the Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture hearing, while Binay was also present. Their staff were also told to isolate themselves.
"Most of us (senators) have decided to stay home and away from any events while we await test done on Sen. Sherwin and Sen. Nancy," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri told reporters in a text message.
"To be safe, we the senators, should be all tested for COVID-19 as we were exposed yesterday to a number of people," he said.
As of March 12 afternoon, senators who are in isolation are:
- Nancy Binay
- Franklin Drilon
- Sherwin Gatchalian
- Panfilo Lacson
- Lito Lapid
- Imee Marcos
- Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan
- Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr.
- Francis Tolentino
- Juan Miguel Zubiri
While he was not present in the March 5 hearing, Lacson said he decided to go on self-quarantine as the COVID-19 patient entered Senate premises.
“There is every reason to be concerned as far as the Senate is concerned since an invited resource person who has been tested positive for COVID-19 had not only entered the Senate premises but even interacted with at least 2 senators and their staff,” Lacson said in a statement.
When asked why he opted to submit himself to home quarantine, Lacson said: “Better safe than sorry for others.”
“God knows how many among us had close contact with our 2 colleagues, and so forth and so on, sharing elevators, lounge and the session hall with them,” he said.
Lacson urged other senators to place themselves in isolation for precaution, while Binay earlier called on people who came in contact with her to also opt to be quarantined.
Lacson blamed the government’s “inadequate response” for the rapid spread of the virus in the country.
“Sad to say, the developing events have already showed the inadequate response of government in regard to monitoring and containment,” Lacson said.
“Save for the breakthrough of the UP scientists in coming up with an FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved affordable test kits, we have yet to see a concrete, decisive action to address the problem at hand,” he said.
”Government should focus and make available all resources and logistics, both national and local in a consolidated effort to protect our citizens from this scourge, even to the point of implementing a case-to-case lockdown in known vulnerable areas like the National Capital Region and other urban centers,” he said.
Sen. Sonny Angara said he "may also" place himself under self-quarantine tomorrow, while Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go said he would undergo testing for COVID-19.
'EXTREME PREVENTIVE PRACTICES'
Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier placed the Senate building in Pasay City under "restricted access" while it is being disinfected.
"The Senate has to continue to function... However, I have given strict instructions that all employees should exercise extreme preventive practices as they go about their daily tasks," Sotto said in a statement.
"Employees who feel they might be infected should volunteer to go on self-isolation," he said.
Zubiri said the Senate is not "panicking" but is taking the virus "seriously."
"This virus is no joke and we should take this seriously. Many think we are panicking pero kung mahal ninyo mga magulang niyo at inyong mga lolo at lola, then you should take this virus very seriously dahil ang mga malimit na namamatay ay mga senior citizens," he said.
(Many think we are panicking but if you love your parents and your grandfather and grandmother, then you should take this virus very seriously because often those who die of the virus are senior citizens.)
Lawmakers also urged the Department of Health to procure more COVID-19 testing kits after a Senate investigation earlier found that there are only 2,000 pieces available to the public.
Other than senators, several cabinet members and other government officials have also placed themselves under self-quarantine after exposure to a coronavirus patient in a March 5 road project inspection.
President Rodrigo Duterte is set to take a COVID-19 test as he was present at the same event.
Earlier this week, the Philippines declared a state of public health emergency and Duterte suspended classes at all levels in Metro Manila in a bid to contain the virus. The health department is on Code Red, Sub-level 1, placing medical personnel and resources on full deployment.
As of Thursday, the Philippines has confirmed 49 COVID-19 patients. The outbreak, which began in China, has killed some 4,000 people and infected 110,000 others worldwide, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global pandemic.