Duterte to declare state of public health emergency over coronavirus

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to declare a state of public health emergency after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the local transmission of COVID-19.

Senator Bong Go was the first to announce this to media on Saturday, March 7. Hours before Go made the announcement, Duque said he had recommended the issuance of the declaration to the Chief Executive in anticipation of the possible sustained community spread of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

"Pursuant to the recommendation of the DOH and my suggestion as Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to issue a declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency due to the confirmation of a local transmission of COVID-19 in our country," said Go.

Malacañang issued a similar announcement over an hour later.

"The Office of the President also notes the recommendation of the DOH to declare a State of Public Health Emergency. The said proposal has been raised to the attention of the President who has agreed to issue such declaration after considering all critical factors with the aim of safeguarding the health of the Filipino public," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.

Duque announced at a news briefing that the DOH raised the conoravirus alert system to Code Red-Sublevel 1 after it ascertained that the country's 5th case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, got infected locally as he had no history of travel abroad.

"With this Code Red, the DOH has recommended to the Office of the President for the declaration of a state of public health emergency which will facilitate the mobilization of resources, ease processes including procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensifying reporting and quarantine measures," Duque said.

The DOH raised the COVID-19 alert system as it confirmed the Philippines' 6th case of COVID-19 – the wife of the 5th case, a 62-year-old Filipino man known to frequent a prayer hall at the Greenhills shopping mall in San Juan.

Duque assuaged fears about the raising of the alert level, saying it was just "a preemptive measure" that served as a "signal to all concerned agencies, local governments, health care providers to be ready to [implement] planned response measures."

At this stage, Duque said, the government will be conducting intensified contact tracing, as well as activation of other laboratories that can diagnose COVID-19. 

"Activation of other labs outside of Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) to increase capacity to diagnose are now being implemented," Duque said.

But Duque said that the DOH was also preparing for "possible sustained community transmission."

"However, once there is sustained community transmission or increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established, the strategy will be shifted from intensive contact tracing, to the implementation of community level quarantine or lockdown and possible suspension of work or school," Duque said.

"This will be implemented in municipal, city or provincial scale as maybe warranted," he added.

He said that if this should happen, health staff and uniformed personnel from unaffected would be tapped. Rappler.com 

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.