Gov't lacked 'sense of urgency' in preparing for COVID-19: ex-govt adviser


Posted at Jun 24 2020 09:08 AM

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MANILA - The Philippines lacked a "sense of urgency" in buying protective equipment for its healthcare workers during its initial lockdown against COVID-19 in March, a former special adviser to government's task force on the pandemic said Wednesday.

Public health expert Tony Leachon made the remark after Health Secretary Francisco Duque denied claims that the country was late in procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical gear.

"Number 1, (there was) the lack of sense of urgency particularly during the time when we had time to prepare our healthcare capacity. I know that there was a lot of competition because the rest of the world was stockpiling but others were able to prepare," he told ANC.

Leachon cited Vietnam as an example, which he said was "10 times poorer" with nearly a similar number of population with the Philippines at 95 million.

"And yet they were able to prepare for PPEs and testing. The bottom line is basically preparedness and agility and of course a sense of urgency," he said.

Leachon also criticized government's data management, comparing it to the US, Italy, Vietnam and South Korea which he said were "able to manage their data very well without fresh or late cases or backlog."

"And they were very straightforward in terms of their communication with the public as to the number of cases, deaths and recoveries," he said.

The former special adviser to government warned of complacency in Metro Manila which might lead to a spike in coronavirus cases following its placement under general community quarantine since June 1.

Leachon said the number of infections in Cebu City rose after it was placed under GCQ in early June.

"Even in the best countries that have flattened the curve, spikes will be present," he said, citing South Korea which is fights its second wave of infections.

"And of course with the rainy season right now, we expect there might be second waves. We hope we will be able to address this."

Leachon also welcomed government's move to tap Environment Secretary and former military general Roy Cimatu to oversee pandemic response in Cebu City, citing the military's role in the Ebola outbreak.

"One of the success factors in Ebola outbreak was prevention of cases from the rural to urban areas. In contrast with modern reference models like South Korea and Vietnam, they did not use the military because they prepared already with the occurrence of their index cases," he said.

"They started right away with testing, contact tracing because they were prepared from the very start on the basic healthcare capacity requirements."

Authorities should also monitor Cebu City's neighbors Mandaue and Talisay City as these are in the virus' "buffer zone," according to Leachon.

The Philippines on Tuesday reported a record-high 1,150 additional COVID-19 cases, raising the country's confirmed coronavirus infections to 31,825. Some 1,186 died from the disease while 8,442 patients recovered.