MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines is faring better than other countries in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, a consultant to the government's task force on COVID-19 said Thursday, despite logging record-high new infections in the past week amid the presence of more contagious variants.
"We've done a fairly good job. We are number 30 in the number of cases of countries. At least we are not in the top 10," Dr. Ted Herbosa, special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, told ANC.
He made the remark when asked about Malacañang's recent pronouncement that the government's response to the health crisis was excellent.
While the Philippines is among countries with the most COVID-19 cases in the Southeast Asian region, it has kept its death rate and number of new infections low, he added.
"We are the only country also in Southeast Asia that has so much overseas Filipino workers that has actually introduced the variants and caused our second wave," Herbosa said.
A year into the pandemic, the Philippines has logged over 684,000 coronavirus cases, of which more than 579,000 recovered while 13,000 succumbed to the disease. The tally of active cases or patients deemed infectious stood at over 91,000.
To stem fresh cases, the government has placed Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under general community quarantine with additional restrictions until April 4, even as the country's lockdown is already considered among the world's longest and strictest.
Herbosa also dismissed calls to overhaul or abolish the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases over its alleged failed response to the pandemic.
"It's a bad idea because we are in our national action plan phase 3. If you’re implementing a plan, it's not gonna work. Brazil changed their health minister 4 times last year. Where are they now? They're actually the second most affected country globally in this pandemic," he said.
For Herbosa, the IATF-MEID, which is the policy-making body on measures to address the crisis, will remain.
"Changing the driver or a pilot of a plane while it's mid-air might not be a good idea because you don't know how the replacement will do better. So, I'll continue with the current situation and reassess after. That's how we do it in emergency situation," he said.
Herbosa also defended President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III from criticisms over their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
"You saw that we implemented a very strict lockdown in March (last year). I think what we learned is that we controlled the virus well with the very strict lockdown but it affected our economy," he said.
On Duque leading the IATF, Herbosa said, "He actually listens to them (experts, political leaders), runs these meetings very well, and comes up with a collective [strategy]."
In response to Herbosa's remark, a scientists' group said their call to overhaul the leadership and approaches of IATF was "valid and legitimate."
"We are not questioning the objectives of the institution in charge of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. We are questioning the competence of the people manning the institution," AGHAM, or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, said in a statement.
The group railed against Herbosa's "fairly good" rating for the Philippine government, which, it said, allegedly has employed an "anti-people, militaristic" response to the crisis.
"Where is 'fairly good' in the more than 30,000 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths? Is the continued rise of active cases fairly good to Dr. Herbosa?" AGHAM asked.