MANILA - A former health secretary on Monday urged top government officials to be role models in observing health protocols against COVID-19 as some had appeared at crowded events, which could reverse the progress of stopping the pandemic.
Dr. Paulyn Ubial, in an interview with ANC's "Matters of Fact," said these incidents had led some people to feel the health crisis was over, which had so far sickened nearly 430,000 people in the country. Of the nationwide tally, over 8,300 deaths were linked to the virus.
"I think the government, especially the Department of Health (DOH), has to remind our top officials about maintaining the health protocols," she said, "and making sure that they show this as an example to the public that they are the role models that the public will follow."
This, after President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque and Sen. Manny Pacquiao drew flak for attending mass gatherings last week.
Roque went to Bantayan Island in Cebu to help promote tourism while Pacquiao went to Batangas to distribute relief goods. Both events supposedly violated physical distancing protocols.
Ubial, who now leads the molecular laboratory of the Philippine Red Cross, also refuted Roque's statement that "general compliance" of COVID-19 protocols was met as the crowd wore masks despite not observing physical distancing. The event was also held outdoors, he added.
The virus can still spread through physical contact and if people do not wear their masks properly, she said.
"The chances of viral survival when it's open air is lower but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen," Ubial added.
The former health secretary also urged the government to start relaying to the public the advantages and disadvantages of the upcoming vaccine against COVID-19.
"Don't give people false hope that if you start vaccinating with COVID-19 vaccine that COVID-19 will disappear. It's still important to have minimum health protocols... even if we start immunization," she said.
Ubial noted there were still "a segment of the population" that was hesitant in getting inoculated, especially after the Dengvaxia vaccination controversy that prompted a dangerous plunge in vaccination rates in the country for other diseases.
"There's really a segment of the population there's vaccine hesitancy because of the concept of many people that natural infection is better than artificial," she said.
"The thing that happened with Dengvaxia, that concept or vaccine hesitancy was further fuel, so I think that's one of things DOH has to deal with," she added.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, Ubial recommends maintaining the general community quarantine (GCQ) status in high-risk areas such as Metro Manila.
"I think that's the more prudent way to go especially the number of cases are not really that low. There's still a possibility of spiking because of the current high number of cases," she said.
The Philippines employs a 4-level community quarantine scheme ranging from the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to the most relaxed modified general community quarantine or MGCQ. The quarantine level dictates the type of business activities allowed in a certain area, as well as travel restrictions.
The capital region has been under GCQ since August, with stricter lockdowns enforced in earlier months as COVID-19 infections rose. Select businesses are allowed to operate at full capacity in GCQ areas.