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Palace calls for calm, transparency amid new COVID-19 cases
Passengers of a jeepney in Manila are seen wearing face masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus.
Miguel De Guzman, Michael Varcas

Palace calls for calm, transparency amid new COVID-19 cases

Janvic Mateo, Christina Mendez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte appealed yesterday for calm as the country reels from the confirmation of its first local transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with at least two confirmed cases recorded in two major business districts in the densely populated Metro Manila area.

Invoking public safety and public health, Duterte also directed the Department of Health (DOH) and other concerned agencies to be more transparent about the developments of the new cases, particularly on local transmissions, as well as the possible areas where the disease was recorded and other pertinent details.

The President also ordered intensified and thorough contact tracing of the individuals whom the patients may have interacted with prior and after they tested positive for the virus.

“At the very outset of the surge of news reports concerning COVID-19, the President has categorically mandated relevant instrumentalities of the government to be absolutely transparent to the Filipino people as regards this health issue, aware that we have the right to be informed of the conditions surrounding us,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a press statement released yesterday morning.

The Palace spokesman said a case of “local transmission, if and when it happens in the country, would thus be unequivocally reported to the people.”

Amid new cases reported in the cities of San Juan and Makati, Panelo also reiterated yesterday the Palace call for sobriety.

“We call on everyone to be the voice of calm and sobriety,” he said in a statement.

Panelo said the concerned agencies have given assurances that international protocols are being followed to address and contain the disease.

The DOH, which has been following established international protocols, continues to monitor persons under investigation, he stressed.

According to Panelo, teams have been dispatched to do contact tracing of the persons who had contact with the confirmed COVID-19 patients.

Panelo also advised the public to always monitor the official announcements coming from the DOH, along with other agencies of the government, which provides the latest updates relative to the impact of this global health scare. 

To avoid panic, the Palace also appealed to the public to be more careful and discerning before spreading unconfirmed information about the disease.

“Accordingly, we also ask the public to be scrupulous in reading informative materials and not to share unverified and unofficial information that may only cause undue panic among the population,” Panelo said.

The Office of the President again reminded the public to practice protective measures to guard themselves against COVID-19, such as frequent and proper hand-washing, observing proper cough etiquette and maintaining distance from individuals experiencing respiratory symptoms, among others. 

“By performing these safeguards, we likewise do our share in our community’s fight against this disease,” Panelo said.

The Palace added that the government is continuously coordinating with the countries of foreign nationals purportedly contracting COVID-19 in the Philippines.

‘Utmost prudence’

At a press conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said it is imperative for health care providers, institutions and stakeholders to “exercise utmost prudence in sharing sensitive information” to uphold an individual’s right to privacy.

“Our objectives for sharing information are two-pronged: ensure the public’s health and safety by facilitating contact tracing and ensuring that the individual’s right to privacy is not infringed,” he noted. 

Duque has asked concerned organizations or agencies to coordinate with the DOH when disseminating information to the public and within their respective institutions.

“Let us make sure the information sharing process will yield the utmost benefit and avoid unnecessary stress and stigma to individuals and institutions,” he added.

He said the DOH is committed to be more circumspect in reporting confirmed cases, to balance the interests of public health and privacy.

“To this end only pertinent information necessary to facilitate contact tracing will be provided to the public, i.e., activity, location and time, if available,” he maintained.

Duque made the statement after Cardinal Santos Medical Center, St. Luke’s Global City, professional firm Deloitte Philippines and Fil East Homeowners’ Association Inc. in Filinvest East Homes in Cainta, Rizal and Avida Towers issued separate advisories involving additional COVID-19 cases. 

Transparency

Duque denied accusations that the DOH is concealing information specifically about COVID-19 patients, as Cardinal Santos jumped the gun on them in disclosing details about the country’s fifth case of infection.

He said Cardinal Santos, which first managed case number five, had requested that the DOH not reveal the hospital’s name.

Duque said the hospital came up with an advisory without even informing the DOH.

For her part, DOH Assistant Secretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire said they recognize that issuing such advisories was well-meant but it could also have negative outcomes.

“It could have other implications, like raising panic or fears, and stigmatizing people and places where the patients work (or live),” she added.

Macau repatriates 

This, as Vergeire reported that 162 Filipinos were repatriated yesterday from Macau.

She said that similar protocols will be observed as when the Philippine government brought home repatriates from China and the M/V Diamond Princess in Japan.

Vergeire said all of the repatriates were tested prior to boarding the plane and those who may be positive for the virus cannot join the repatriation. They will be tested again upon arrival in the country.

Contact tracing

According to Duque, the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau and regional offices are currently establishing travel history and identification of individuals who might have had contact with the three foreign nationals who were found infected after visiting the Philippines.

“We will be prioritizing testing of those symptomatic individuals found to have had close contact with the confirmed cases,” he added.

Duque has urged those “who may have interacted with the confirmed cases within the past 14 days to immediately call the DOH Hotline (02) 8-651-7800, local 1149 to 1150, for appropriate referral to a health facility.”

“For persons with known history of exposure or travel and with mild symptoms including cough, fever, cold and sore throat, DOH is advising you to undergo home quarantine and contact your respective city or municipal health office for proper assessment, monitoring and management,” he said.

Vice President Leni Robredo on Saturday urged Filipinos to remain calm and alert.

“We continue to remind our countrymen not to panic and to remain calm and alert. Share only the correct information coming from authorities,” she said in Filipino.

The Vice President also urged those manifesting symptoms to immediately consult the nearest heath facility.

“Let us continue to share the right information to care for ourselves and to stop the spread of this disease. If we all work together, our success will be more certain,” she said.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III urged the public to observe ways to prevent the spread of the disease, and said he would not blame people for opting not to go out in public as a precaution.

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