MANILA — The Philippines failed to "act urgently" at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and was still "catching up" with the response of other countries despite imposing one of the longest lockdowns in the world, Vice President Leni Robredo said Thursday.
When the health department confirmed the first COVID-19 cases in January, the government "dilly-dallied" with the cancellation of flights to and from China, and was "not very strict on its implementation," she said.
Authorities also appeared to lack "sense of urgency" in purchasing safety gear for frontliners when the lockdown of Metro Manila and other urban centers started in March, said Robredo.
"We did not act urgently. Kaya nararamdaman natin ngayon iyong mga gaps, kasi naging complacent tayo at the very start," she told ANC.
"Hanggang ngayon marami pa tayong kina-catch up instead of sumasabay na sana tayo sa experiences ng iba."
(We are feeling the gaps now because we were complacent at the very start. Until now, we are still catching up on many things instead of being on the same pace as the experiences of others.)
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III denied Tuesday that the Philippines was late in ordering personal protective equipment (PPEs).
"We really just had a problem with the supply because at that time a lot of other countries had moved ahead of us, because they had more cases early on compared to," he said, as quoted in an Inquirer report.
Robredo said authorities could have sourced "medical-grade" PPEs from local suppliers, like her office did, instead of competing with other countries for imported supplies.
"Yung late kasi saka early, relative iyon. 'Pag naunahan tayo ng iba, late pa rin tayo," she said.
(Late and early are relative. If others get ahead of us, we're still late.)
The Vice President also urged the health department to meet its deadline for coronavirus testing. The Philippines currently runs 12,000 tests a day, less than half of its 30,000 daily screening target by end of May, she said.
"Sa akin, bilisan na iyon because even if we ease the lockdown already... if people are still afraid to go out, wala e, iyong negosyo maghihirap. 'Pag naghirap ang negosyo, damay ang lahat," she said.
(For me, that should be fast-tracked because even if we ease the lockdown already... if people are still afraid to go out, business will still struggle. If business suffer, everyone will be affected.)