Palace: Duque has differing view but Philippines still in first wave of COVID-19 cases

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Palace: Duque has differing view but Philippines still in first wave of COVID-19 cases
An employee displays face shields, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, for sale at a retail store in Manila on May 18, 2020.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is still battling the first wave of COVID-19 infections, Malacañang said Thursday, disagreeing with the health chief’s pronouncement that the country is now dealing with a second phase of the outbreak.

Medical experts and other Cabinet officials refuted Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s statement, especially after President Rodrigo Duterte himself has repeatedly mentioned trying to avoid a second wave in cases, which economic managers also said would be too costly to address.

At a press briefing, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque apologized to those who were alarmed by the health chief’s pronouncement that the Philippines was already on its second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Roque said the first wave of infections in the country began with the first three COVID-19 cases in the Philippines back in January involving Chinese tourists.

“The first wave began [with the Chinese tourists]. It went on during February when we had few cases reported then ballooned in March. It continued to increase until May,” he said in Filipino.

Different interpretations

Duque said the Philippines saw the first wave of COVID-19 infections in late January, referring to the three imported cases from China. In January and February, the country had not been doing enough tests to detect more suspected cases of the novel coronavirus disease.

After those three, there was a month-long lull in cases before a sudden surge in March due to more testing.

Dr. John Wong, an epidemiologist tapped by the health department to assist in the coronavirus task force, said in a Department of Health briefing Wednesday that the "second wave"—the “first major wave”—began in March and peaked at the end of the month.

Roque said the number of first reported cases was too small to be considered the first wave.

Duque was not wrong but the health chief had a different interpretation of data, the presidential spokesperson said.

"Let's just say he wasn't wrong but he had a different opinion," Roque said.

"Medicine is like law. There is one law but different interpretations," he also said. "Maybe it's the same with medicine. Same science, same data, varying interpretations."

But Duque, who made the comment in a briefing with senators, is head of the Department of Health, which chairs the policy-making Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Roque also said that the usage of different terms is a small matter, saying “it is just on the terminology on when is the big wave coming.” The presidential spokesman has taken to saying that the term "mass testing" should no longer be used, claiming it is impossible to test everybody in the Philippines.

That is not what advocates of "mass testing" have been calling for.

The Philippines on Wednesday reported 279 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the total number of infections in the country to 13,221 with 842 deaths.

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