Senators lament PH having highest surge of COVID-19 cases in Western Pacific region
MANILA, Philippines — Several senators lamented on Sunday the continuing rise of coronavirus cases in the Philippines, with data from the World Health Organization (WHO) showing that it as having the fastest surge in the Western Pacific region in the last two weeks.
“This should be embarrassing to our neighbors, but it is more embarrassing to our fellow countrymen, to the doctors, nurses, and medical technologists, and to all who have sacrificed and are sacrificing their lives to fight this disease. To all who have complied and are complying with the various and oftentimes confusing guidelines, like work resumption but without public transport,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.
According to the senator, the government should “simultaneously” enforce lockdowns, conduct mass testing, and contact tracing.
“We have long been saying, proposing, urging… that we should conduct mass testing and contact tracing. We won’t get anything out of a military or police response or soliciting signatures for [constitutional change] or federalism,” he said.
“Lockdowns, mass testing, and contact tracing should be done simultaneously. Just like in farming, you can’t perform one task alone like till the soil, you also have to plant the seeds and water the crops. You have to care for the plants,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sen. Joel Villanueva said “we lost focus on our primary goal of containing the virus” for the past weeks by relaxing some restrictions.
“We reopened the economy drastically, even for the non-essential sectors like [Philippine offshore gaming operators]. We did not prohibit malls from extending their operating hours. We terminated social assistance, sent people back to work even without sufficient modes of public transportation,” he said in a separate message to reporters.
He lamented what he called a lack of “clear guidance on surveillance and epidemiological monitoring.”
“The current statistics are obviously consequences of these actions. I really hope that during the past months we have upgraded our healthcare system to properly respond to this pandemic. We continue to encourage the public to stay at home, practice social distancing and only come out of their homes when necessary,” he said.
He further urged the government to implement a “methodologically sound epidemiological surveillance” so that it could make informed decisions on its policies on the pandemic.
For his part, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the government’s COVID-19 task force “should address the health protocols and programs being done by the DOH.”
“Something is very wrong!” he added.
Sen. Sonny Angara said Filipinos should exercise vigilance and caution since “we are emerging from the lockdown and relaxing quarantine protocols.”
“There are greater risks of infection. Again the methods to reduce these risks are well established- distancing, wearing masks, testing and contact tracing. Undoubtedly there is still room for improvement,” he added.
Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, chair of the Senate health committee, raised the same concerns, saying that a strict enforcement of existing quarantine measures and the compliance of the public would be “very crucial.”
“As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, the government should ramp up the enforcement of quarantine, the conduct of contact tracing and the necessary treatment capabilities,” Go said in Filipino in a statement, adding that the government should ramp up its testing, tracing, and treatment strategies.
According to an Inquirer report, the Philippines has recorded 8,143 COVID-19 cases since June 16, the highest among the 22 other countries in the region.
The Philippines was followed by Singapore with 2,351 cases and China with 302 cases in the same period, according to the report.
According to a statement issued by the Department of Health (DOH) on Sunday, “the comparison made with Singapore and other countries requires a deeper understanding of population ratio versus the number of cases.”
The DOH noted that Singapore had 43,246 cases logged out of its 5.9 million population, while the Philippines, with a population of 109 million, has confirmed 34,803 coronavirus cases as of June 27.
“Singapore’s death per million is 4.4 deaths per million population while the Philippines has 11.34 deaths per million population,” the department said.
The DOH further said that prior to the pandemic, the Philippines’ socioeconomic context, particularly living conditions and health system capacity, was “different from Singapore.”
“Please take that into account when we do our analysis. Let us not cherry-pick the countries we want to compare ourselves to,” the agency said.
The DOH said the Philippine government “strives to manage COVID-19 in the absence of a cure or vaccine.”
“[A]ll agencies are tasked to closely monitor the rise in cases and strengthen our response through localized actions, especially in emerging hotspots,” it said.
“These localized responses entail early detection of cases and tracing of contacts, their immediate isolation or quarantine, and appropriate testing and treatment,” it added.
According to the DOH, it has also addressed the rising critical care utilization through the augmentation of its equipment and workforce to ensure that the country’s health capacity could manage a possible surge of infections.
“We continue to emphasize the implementation of minimum health standards, i.e. wearing of masks and physical distancing, as the most effective preventive measure in the absence of a vaccine,” it said.
The number of coronavirus infections in the country breached the 35,000-mark of confirmed cases on Sunday. Of that number, 9,686 have recovered while 1,244 have died.
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