Nancy Binay chides government for 'slow' release of COVID-19 info
Sen. Nancy Binay speaks during a Senate hearing on the the economic impacts of the new coronavirus.
Office of Sen. Nancy Binay
Nancy Binay chides government for 'slow' release of COVID-19 info
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - March 9, 2020 - 2:29pm

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Nancy Binay on Monday criticized the response of the Department of Health to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines after the country reported seven new cases in a span of four days.

The new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has so far infected 10 people in the country since the pathogen emerged in China late last year.

At the Senate hearing on the impact-risk assessment of COVID-19, Binay scolded Health officials for the agency’s late announcements of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country.

The lawmaker said she got confused about the confirmed cases over the weekend.

“What’s happening is that people get information from Viber groups first before the DOH issues an announcement,” Binay said in Filipino.

She added: “I think you also have to announce, disseminate information faster because it seems that the public is losing confidence with the way you’re handling the dissemination of information about the patients.”

DOH: We have been releasing information regularly

Dr. Gemma Arellano, representative of the DOH Emergency Operation Center for COVID-19, said the department is trying its best to provide timely information to the public about the growing health crisis.

“That’s why the secretary has been doing a lot of press briefings every day, even twice. But then everyday there are new cases coming out and we’re trying to keep up with all these new information that we get,” she said.

But Binay reminded the Health officials that “what is good for the majority” should prevail

The DOH raised the alert system over COVID-19 to Code Red Sublevel 1 on Saturday after confiriming the first case of local transmission in the country involving a 59-year-old woman, who is the wife of the 62-year-old man who first tested positive for the potentially deadly virus.

‘You’re making me panic’

Binay also brought up at the hearing the lack of testing kits in the country.

Representatives of the Health department told the Senate committees on Health and Demography, and Economic Affairs that the country's stock on hand is only good for 2,000 tests. 

An additional 4,500 extracting kits—good for only 2,000 people—are expected to arrive.

“I am really concerned because I’m a parent of four kids and it is important to start with testing kits. If we don’t do tests, we will not know how grave our problem is,” Binay said.

Dr. Alethea De Guzman, DOH medical specialist, also said in the inquiry that there is a need for the DOH to review its decision tools.

“We will base our new need on our new decision tool. The previous decision tool only says those coming from affected countries. But this time, this is already local transmission,” she said.

A frustrated Binay replied: “I don’t want to panic but you’re making me panic. Kasi yung naririnig namin ngayon is parang di niyo pinaghandaan na magkakaroon tayo ng local transmission. Mismong si Sec. Duque na ‘yung nagsabi na it’s just a question of when na pagdating. We only have 2,000 testing kits out of 100 million population.”

(I don’t want to panic but you’re making me panic. Because what I hear now is it seems that you were not prepared for a local transmission. Sec. Duque himself said that it’s just a question of when. We only have 2,000 testing kits out of 100 million.)

'PCOO should make public health info a priority'

Binay on Sunday called on the Presidential Communications and Operations Office to prioritize public health interests. 

"PCOO and other agencies should step up in elevating the ante in risk communication. They should not waste their time doing roadshows in Europe because they should be focusing on fighting the spread of COVID-19," she said. 

Binay stressed the role of risk communication in managing panic over the virus. 

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar at a Palace press briefing on Monday said the agency has been coordinating with the coronavirus task force "since Day One."

"That is the vibrancy of our democracy: the check and balance," Andanar said, adding his office will forward a report on the PCOO's activities to Binay. 

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday signed Proclamation 922, declaring a state of public health emergency across the country. With the proclamation, the Health agency may call upon the Philippine National Police “and other law enforcement agencies to provide assistance” in addressing the threat of the virus.

Out of the confirmed cases in the country, seven are confined, while two have recovered. The country has recorded one fatality—a tourist who had arrived in the Philippines from Wuhan, the city in China that is the epicenter of the outbreak.

Globally, the number of the confirmed novel coronavirus cases is at 109,032, including 3,792 deaths, across 99 countries and territories.

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