Duque blames improper wearing of face masks, face shields for COVID-19 surge
MANILA, Philippines — The country’s recent COVID-19 surge is partly caused by people not complying with minimum health protocols like the proper wearing of masks and face shields, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said on Monday.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s pre-recorded briefing, Duque reported that he went around public markets and other areas and found that people tend to be using face masks and face shields for token compliance.
Duterte was asking Duque why the cases have risen exponentially, as the country reported 8,019 new cases on Monday, the highest-ever single-day jump in cases and the country’s fourth consecutive day with over 7,000 new infections.
“Umiikot din po ako halos araw-araw, pumupunta ako sa mga palengke, na parang hindi na nasunod ‘yong naka-gano’n po Mr. President, tapos ang face shield naka-gano’n na lang eh, parang token lang ang compliance,” Duque told Duterte, showing his mask down to his chin as if to imitate the people he mentioned.
(I was going to places almost every day, going into markets where health protocols were almost ignored; their face masks were down to their chins, then their face shields were raised above the rule, as if it was all for display.)
“So ako po ang nakikiusap sa kanila, at patuloy na umiikot para sabihan ang mga mamamayan kasama ko po ang mga alkalde, na sumunod po tayo dahil unang-una, hindi sapat ang bakuna, kulang pa ho tayo, wala pa pong isang porsyento ang dumating na bakuna,” he added.
(So I am asking them, and I and the town mayors would continue to move around to tell the public that we should follow the protocols because first and foremost, vaccines are not enough. We still lack the vaccines, we have not even obtained one percent of the vaccines.)
Despite saying that poor compliance to health protocols was to blame for the increase in cases, Duque said that it could also be due to the gradual opening of the economy, which he admitted was inevitable given the country’s need to recover from the economic downturn in 2020.
“Nag-luwag po tayo ng ating pong mga quarantines, ‘yon pong mga paghihigpit kasi nga no’ng dumaan ang Pasko, Bagong Taon, nakita naman po natin na mababa ang kaso natin, so nagluwag po tayo […] at binuksan din po natin ang malaking bahagi ng ekonomiya,” Duque recalled.
(We also relaxed quarantine restrictions because we saw fewer cases during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so we eventually opened up a large portion of the economy.)
“Nagdulot naman po ito ng increased mobility ng mga tao, at ‘yong increased mobility po ng mga tao, nagdulot din ng increased transmission, increased contact rate, kaya po nakita niyo exponential,” he explained.
(This resulted in increased mobility of people, and increased mobility of people resulted in increased transmissions and contact rate, which is why the rise is exponential.)
Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, the national government was forced to put Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under a general community quarantine and within a bubble — to contain cases in the region and prevent cases from spreading to other areas.
The bubble meant that people within the bubble could not move outside of it unless absolutely necessary, and vice versa.
Although the government maintained that Metro Manila and other areas are not under lockdown, it borrowed certain prohibitions from more stringent quarantine protocols, such as the prohibition of indoor dining-in activities, the prohibition of mass gatherings and religious gatherings, with the exception of restricted attendance at weddings, baptisms, and funerals.
Duque also discussed the possibility that variants of concerns are causing faster infections — but he acknowledged that this might not be the only cause, as the most common variant among samples sequenced is that from the Hong Kong lineage, which was not found to be more infectious.
“Posibleng ‘yong variants, kasi meron po tayong ‘yong UK variant na alam po natin sa UK, ang kanila pong report ay 50 to 70 percent po siya na mas mabilis po na kumalat. So that’s one possibility po. Pangalawa po ‘yon ding South African variant, posible po na ganun din, mas mabilis o baka sinasabi nila, baka maapektuhan naman ‘yong effectiveness ng bakuna,” Duque said.
(The variants may also be a factor, as we have the UK version, which has a 50 to 70% higher transmissibility rate. So that’s one possibility. The South African version is another potential explanation; transmission could be quicker, reducing the efficacy of vaccines.)
“Pero ganun pa man Mr. President hindi pa rito masisiguro natin na ito lamang ang dahilan ng pagsipa ng kaso. Kasi po […] lumalabas na ‘yong ating pinaka-karaniwang variant sa ngayon po, ‘yon pa rin pong tinatawag natin na Hong Kong lineage, which accounts for about 24 to 25 percent of all the samples that were sequenced,” he added.
(Nonetheless, Mr. President, we cannot be positive that this is the sole cause of the increase in cases, because the most common variant at the moment is that from the Hong Kong lineage, which accounts for 24 to 25 percent of all samples sequenced.)
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