MANILA - A scientists' group on Wednesday called for an immediate overhaul of the government's task force over supposed failed response to the COVID-19 crisis, saying the Philippines is in a "worse state" than the start of the pandemic.
AGHAM or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases should be replaced with "competent people with medical and scientific backgrounds." Several former military generals hold key positions in the task force.
"The Duterte administration with its militaristic IATF-EID have not flattened the curve even with the recent rollout of vaccines. The numbers don’t lie: we are in a worse state than when we were less prepared a year ago in addressing the pandemic in the country," the group said in a statement.
The pandemic has so far claimed over 13,000 lives in the country. Total infections stood at more than 684,000, among the worst in Southeast Asia.
"We cannot afford to see another 13,000 Filipinos succumb to the disease. This is never a small thing. Duterte must overhaul its failed COVID-19 pandemic response approach," AGHAM said.
Amid spate of new infections, the group urged for aggressive testing and contact tracing. The government must also provide additional resources to medical institutions such as the Philippine Genome Center for genome sequencing.
"With a massive budget of at least $2.91 billion through various loans at its disposal, we expected a system that is prepared to address a possible worse surge of the disease. To say that we are disappointed is an understatement," AGHAM said.
For the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, the Philippines has secured a $400 million loan from Asian Development Bank and $500 million loan from World Bank.
The Palace had dismissed calls to replace the leadership at the IATF-EID. New, more transmissible COVID-19 variants are largely responsible for the surge in cases, the President's spokesman Harry Roque said.
"Nothing will be abolished. If you abolish the IATF, it's as if you abolish the government," he added.
Several senators have also criticized the task force for allegedly mishandling the health crisis, as the country reported a new record-high in daily cases.