Duterte Cabinet members in self-quarantine amid coronavirus fears

Sofia Tomacruz
(UPDATE) At least 2 Cabinet members are isolating themselves and avoiding contact with the 74-year-old President Rodrigo Duterte

TAKING PRECAUTIONS. President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 46th Cabinet Meeting at Malacañang Palace on March 2, 2020. Malacañang photo

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Several Cabinet members of the Duterte government are placing themselves under quarantine in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, while serving as the country’s top officials closest to President Rodrigo Duterte. 

On Wednesday night, March 11, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III was the first Cabinet official to announce he would undergo self-quarantine after he shook the hand of a patient who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.  

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade followed suit and announced he would also undergo self-quarantine after he was “exposed” to a patient confirmed to have the coronavirus last week. 

Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar also announced on Thursday, March 12,  that he would be isolating himself, as he was with Dominguez and Tugade last week.  

All officials were at the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) Harbor Link inspection ceremony last March 5. (READ: Coronavirus exposure prompts PH economic officials to self-quarantine)

Aside from this, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed to Rappler he would also place himself under quarantine. He said he may have had “possible exposure” to a patient confirmed to have the coronavirus but that he had no symptoms as of posting. 

“I just want to be sure,” he said.

Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones likewise announced she would self-quarantine as an “extra precautionary measure” after some education officials were “exposed” to a confirmed COVID-19 patient last February 28 and March 5. 

All officials were showing no symptoms of the illness as of posting. Medialdea gave assurances they would continue to work and that the Palace was exploring telecommuting options.  

Second round

On March 25, several Cabinet officials were forced to undergo another 14-day quarantine period after ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap tested positive for the novel coronavirus. 

Yap was present at a special meeting in Malacañang held last March 21. 

In particular, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado and Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista told reporters they would self-isolate after being present in the same meeting with Yap.

Efforts of Cabinet members to isolate themselves come as they work closely with Duterte, who earlier  tested negative for for COVID-19.

Experts earlier said that older adults with preexisting health conditions were more vulnerable to the coronavirus, particularly those aged over 60-years-old. Duterte, 74, earlier claimed he suffered from a slew of medical conditions that include myasthenia gravis, Buerger’s disease, Barrett’s esophagus, and “spinal issues,” among others.

As of Thursday, the Philippines has so far recorded 49 confirmed coronavirus cases, two of whom have died. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.