Duterte orders arrest of people not wearing masks
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police to be stricter in enforcing coronavirus measures and arrest anyone not wearing a mask.
In a recorded address aired on Tuesday, Duterte said not wearing a mask or not observing social distancing used to be trivial. But during a health crisis like the current coronavirus epidemic, he said, it is a “serious crime” to spread the COVID-19 pathogen.
“So we will have to ask our police to be more strict,” he said, adding that the government would have “no qualms in arresting people.”
‘Lesson for all time’
“They will really be arrested. A little shame would put them on notice forever,” Duterte said of anyone not wearing a mask.
“If you are brought to the police station and detained there, that would give you a lesson for all time,” he added.
Duterte made the remarks during a meeting with Cabinet officials on Monday night. Part of the recording was aired on Tuesday morning as the President’s regular address to the nation on his administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Metro Manila is under general community quarantine up to July 31. Malacañang has warned that it might reimpose a stringent lockdown if coronavirus infections remained unabated by the end of the month.
The metropolis remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, topping other regions in the number of infections, which the Department of Health (DOH) has blamed on the residents’ failure to observe minimum public health standards like wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing.
But Malacañang on Tuesday cited a study in the United Kingdom that found that 91 percent of Filipinos wear masks when outdoors.
“Congratulations, Philippines. Nine out of 10 Filipinos wear masks when they go out of their homes,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced at a press briefing, citing Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Behavior Tracker study.
The study showed that the Philippines is second to Singapore in wearing masks in public. It showed Singapore with 94 percent compliance.
It also found that 83 percent of Filipinos wash their hands with soap and water, and that 50 percent go out of their homes to work.
Roque said Duterte’s directive for stricter enforcement of coronavirus measures would be covered by a common ordinance being drafted by the Metro Manila Council.
The draft of the common ordinance, he said, is already with the local governments in the metropolis.
In Southeast Asia, the Philippines ranks second to Indonesia in the number of infections and deaths, with cases jumping nearly four-fold to more than 70,000 and deaths nearly doubling to over 1,800 since the government relaxed lockdown measures on July 1.
Globally, the Philippines is now the 30th country with the most number of confirmed coronavirus infections, just four notches below China, where the new coronavirus first emerged late last year.
The ranking by Johns Hopkins University is based on the Philippines’ nearly 69,000 confirmed cases as of Monday. China is 26th, with 85,314 total cases, while Indonesia is 25th, with 88,214 cases.
On Tuesday, the DOH recorded an additional 1,951 cases, pushing the national caseload to 70,764. Eighty-eight cases were removed from the total after further validation found that these were duplicates.
While more than 70,000 Filipinos have contracted COVID-19 in the last four months since the first local case was reported, the DOH stressed that active cases are only 45,646, or a little over 65 percent of the total.
Of the active cases, 91.1 percent are patients with mild symptoms, while 8 percent show no symptoms. Severely ill patients account for 0.4 percent of all active cases, while 0.5 percent are critical.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire stressed on Tuesday that the DOH has been emphasizing recently the number of active cases because these are the “relevant [cases] that we need to monitor.”
“The number of active cases in the national and local level serves as the basis for our decisions on the types of measures and responses that we need to carry out in a particular area. We also use this as an indicator on how we could adjust the measures we have implemented,” Vergeire said.
The newly reported cases show the infections continue to be concentrated in Metro Manila, as the metropolis accounts for three-quarters of the total, or 1,464. Cebu province trails with 90 cases, followed by Laguna (74), Cavite (53) and Rizal (36).
The DOH also reported that 209 more patients have recovered, bringing the total number of COVID-19 survivors to 23,281. The death toll increased to 1,837 with the deaths of two patients from Western and Central Visayas.
In Malacañang, Roque reported that the country’s critical care capacity was no longer at dangerous levels, as hospital bed occupancy had improved in recent days.
“We are now at 50 percent (occupancy). The danger point is 70 percent, and 50 percent is medium risk. So we are at medium risk as far as critical care capacity is concerned,” Roque said.
DOH data show that as of Sunday, Metro Manila is close to running out of COVID-19 beds.
Of the 3,135 isolation beds, only 631 remain available, while there are just 189 ward beds left empty out of the total 1,289. Of the 509 intensive care beds, 162 are still available.
There are, however, still a lot of available mechanical ventilators, as only 292 of the total 741 are in use.
During the Cabinet meeting on Monday night, Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the National Task Force COVID-19, said he wanted at least four hospitals built to handle COVID-19 cases exclusively to avoid reducing capacity for other diseases.
Galvez cited the two field hospitals that China built in 10 days in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
“If we can only increase our [intensive care capacity] and isolation beds in Metro Manila, it will ease the burden a lot,” he said.
—With a report from the wires
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