Government considering providing free masks to poor FIlipinos — Leachon

Government considering providing free masks to poor FIlipinos � Leachon
In this July 15, 2020 photo, members of the MPD Station 3 round up some 37 individuals, including two minors, for violating the citywide curfew and not wearing of face mask ordinances as they spend the night at a basketball court in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Former adviser to the national task force against COVID-19 Tony Leachon on Friday said the government is looking into providing masks to poor Filipinos as part of its fight against the novel coronavirus disease.

"We think the poor don't behave but if they can't even buy food, what more masks? They want to wear masks, we have to provide access. We should shoulder the cost of the masks, particularly for the urban poor, because the middle class and upper class can afford it," Leachon said in a mix of English and Filipino.

READ: Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwise

He told CNN Philippines that he made the suggestion last Wednesday to President Rodrigo Duterte himself who was receptive to the idea.

He added that the president asked Health Secretary Duque III to calculate how much it would cost to supply masks to the entire Metro Manila, to which Duque responded that it would cost P300 million.

"The president said: 'If we cannot afford that as a country, why are we even here? We can well afford it,'" Leachon recounted.

The doctor also highlighted the need for government to invest in preventative measures which are ultimately cheaper than treating the sick.

As it stands, Metro Manila is seeing several hospitals announce that they no longer have room to accept more COVID-19 patients. 

READ: St. Luke's, Makati Med can no longer take in COVID-19 patients

"The strategy right now is to go to the preventive side... put all your money there and all the infrastructure related to that. We have to prevent it so that they do not have to be admitted to the hospital," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

RELATED: Funds for hiring additional contact tracers not yet released — DILG | Half of DOH budget for COVID-19 response unaccounted for — think tank 

Leachon on June 17 announced that he would no longer serve as adviser to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the national action plan against COVID-19.

Days later, he told CNN Philippines that he believed he was asked to resign because Duque and presidential spokesperson Harry Roque did not like the way he publicly expressed his comments on the lapses of the health department.

Roque denied this, saying the president agreed that Leachon should not have criticized the government's handling of the pandemic.

Given this series of events, Leachon said he was caught off guard by the invitation to attend Wednesday's task force meeting with the president along with other experts.

"Well, I was surprised too, I was invited a day before and I even called the executive assistant of the Office of the President to clarify whether I was really invited and I was really invited."

The doctor has been outspoken about what he believes are lapses on the part of the Department of Health in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, even going as far as to say that Duque and other health officials could be "liable for the death of so many Filipinos." — Bella Perez-Rubio

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