Duque backpedals: PH in ‘1st major wave of sustained community transmission’

Mara Cepeda

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Duque backpedals: PH in ‘1st major wave of sustained community transmission’
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issues the clarification a day after he drew criticism for saying that there was a second wave of coronavirus infections in the country

MANILA, Philippines – After taking the heat for making such a claim, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday, May 21, backpedaled on his statement that there was a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country.

Speaking before the House committee on health on Thursday, Duque clarified that the country was still in the “first major wave of sustained community transmission.”

It was Nueva Ecija 2nd District Representative Micaela Violago who asked Duque why he told the public about the second wave of coronavirus infections in the country only on Wednesday, May 20, when it was supposed to have started back in February.  

Duque still stood by his earlier statement, but said it was a “casual expression of an epidemiologic fact.”

“Because the first wave, which can be, of course…validated by Dr John Wong – he’s our expert epidemiologist – that indeed, there was a first wave but there is more, which consist of just 3 imported cases in January. Then we have nothing for February,” Duque said.

He added: “And then this was followed by a bigger wave, which is now what we consider the first major wave of sustained community transmission. So either way, it can be easily construed that where we are today is really the first major wave of sustained transmission.”

He was referring to the first 3 COVID-cases recorded in the country, all of whom were Chinese from Wuhan province in China, the source of the pandemic. 

Wong, meanwhile, is an epidemiologist from the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health who said on May 5 that the coronavirus curve in the Philippines has started to flatten

Top government officials had earlier countered Duque’s second wave that there was a second wave of coronavirus cases in the country. (READ: First wave, second wave? Duterte officials clash on where PH is in pandemic 

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said the DOH chief’s statement was “not a pronouncement” of President Rodrigo Duterte. 

National Task Force COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr also released a statement saying the country is trying to “prevent a COVID-19 second wave.” 

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire already went on the defense for Duque, saying the health secretary used the term “second wave” in a technical sense. 

“In technical or epidemiological terms, we are already considered as being in the second wave. The first wave was a minor one, with only 3 cases at its peak, happened in January,” Vergeire said in a statement 

Several health experts, however, belied the argument of the DOH officials, arguing that the 3 imported cases were too few to count as a real wave and were not enough to form an epidemic curve. 

To date, the Philippines has tallied a total of 13,434 cases of COVID-19, with 846 deaths and 3,000 recoveries. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.