MANILA, Philippines — Months after saying that Filipinos should be ashamed for their supposed lack of discipline, Malacañang said it does not believe that people in the country are violators and expressed confidence that they would cooperate with quarantine implementers.
The Philippines now has more than 70,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the second in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, which has nearly 90,000. Officials have blamed violators of quarantine measures for the spike in the infection and have vowed to intensify the implementation of localized lockdowns, testing and contact tracing efforts.
However, a study conducted last month by London-based data analysis group YouGov indicated that the majority of Filipinos comply with health protocols. The study, which was conducted in cooperation with the Institute of Global Health Innovation, found 91% of Filipinos saying they wear masks outside their homes and 83% saying they always wash their hands with soap and water.
"I inherently believe they’re (Filipinos) not pasaway (violators)," presidential spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.
"However, looking back for instance this Oplan Kalinga, this should really have been launched earlier because the former policy was asymptomatics and mild cases can stay home probably because at that time we did not have enough isolation centers," he added.
Roque was referring to a government program that requires infected persons with mild or no symptoms to isolate themselves in quarantine facilities.
"This (Oplan Kalinga) could be a game changer, and I encourage all those concerned to proceed to the nearest isolating centers and I promise you that the facilities are like, really, staying in a hotel. It’s like a two-week paid vacation, inclusive of three meals a day and Wi-Fi," he added.
Last April, Roque scolded violators of quarantine measures as he was presenting data showing the Philippines with the most number of COVID-19 cases in the region. During that time, the Philippines had 5,453 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 349 deaths.
"Ang dami pong pasaway sa atin. At dahil po diyan number one na naman po tayo sa ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) sa dami ng COVID-19. Nakakahiya po yan! (There are many violators among us and because of that, we are number one again among ASEAN countries in terms of the number of COVID-19 cases. That's embarrassing)," he said at a press briefing last April 16.
Asked when the country would see a slowdown in the increase in COVID-19 cases, Roque replied: Well, I think it will come when we actually implement this more intense testing and isolation, and we will see it over a period of one month and not just one week."
"I think this will work, I’m confident it will work, but we just have to build the capacity of our testing centers first. Now that we have them, I think we can unleash the full capacity and concentrate in isolating the positives, to contain the further spread of COVID-19," he added.
Tighter measures possible
Roque reiterated that quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila may be tightened if more people catch the virus. Metro Manila, which already has more than 38,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, has been under the lenient general community quarantine since June as the government seeks to revive economic activity while responding to the pandemic.
"That’s a distinct possibility, although it’s a possibility that I wish would not happen because we all know that while we have to contain the disease, we also need to re-start our livelihoods," Roque said when asked whether Metro Manila would be under more stringent quarantine if infections reach 85,000 by July 31.
"We’ve come to a very crucial point where I think the economy can no longer afford to be shutdown anew. But if we have to and there’s no alternative, we need to do it. But that’s why I’m confident that the Filipinos actually will cooperate to an even more greater degree than they have shown," he added.
Despite the continuous rise in the number of infected persons, Roque maintained that the government's response to the pandemic is not a failure.
"I don’t think we failed. For as long as we did not meet the 3.5 (million cases) projection of UP (University of the Philippines)… I think we would have succeeded. We will always have different points of view, particularly those coming from the opposition, and I think they’re resorting to politicking stories," the Palace spokesman said.
"I am confident that we will prevail.
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