MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine economy cannot be totally reopened for now or the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases would increase by the thousands and the country would be in “deep s**t,” according to President Duterte.
Meeting in Davao City from Tuesday night until early yesterday with members of his Cabinet involved in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Duterte said the reopening of the economy should be “circumspect” as the country cannot afford to have another spike in the number of infected persons.
“If you open the entire Philippines and thousands upon thousands of new cases happen, then we are in deep s**t. It would really be difficult for us. First, we do not have money,” the President said in his televised address.
“Poor countries like us… cannot (really afford) a total epidemic or pandemonium. We are poor and we cannot afford to gamble,” he added.
Duterte cited the United States, which has the most number of infections at more than three million, and Brazil, which already has 1.67 million COVID-19 cases.
He said Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the virus, is like US President Donald Trump and has a “devil-may-care attitude.”
“Now, let me stress that whether we open a modified lockdown or we totally open it in wild abandon just like America and Brazil. Well, the presidents there are brave. (Bolsonaro) has money,” Duterte said.
“I cannot follow the example of other countries because as the experience has shown as of now, there were a lot of countries also opening up. And first was Japan, then Korea, followed by China and the United States. Now, what really happened in these countries was that although they opened their economy for money to come into the government coffers, there was a spike. They were having a problem of almost a relapse… in the totality of the number,” he added.
The Chief Executive expressed doubt that the Philippines is experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, saying the country is still “grappling with the first wave.”
He urged the public to obey the government’s quarantine restrictions to contain the virus, which has so far infected more than 47,000 people in the country.
“To my countrymen, I personally want to go out. I don’t want to be prevented from doing so. I am even ready to pick a quarrel over this. The problem is, what I want is not good for everyone, and that is true for your choice and my choice. And so we have to be very circumspect in the reopening of the economy. It should be done gradually,” Duterte said.
“And if ever there is going to be a spike again, maybe, many would-be infected or re-infected, at least, the calibrated numbers of people we allowed to go out would be still within manageable numbers,” he added.
The government has been easing lockdown measures since June as it slowly reopens the pandemic-hit economy while imposing health and hygiene measures.
Only Cebu City is under enhanced community quarantine – the strictest lockdown scenario – because of the rising number of infections that threaten to overwhelm its healthcare capacity.
The quarantine classifications of areas may still change, depending on the situation on the ground, according to Duterte.
He reiterated that decisions on quarantine restrictions would be based on science.
“I’m sorry but I cannot really let you loose… remove the leash… The resultant happening or the resultant endgame there is too horrible to ponder. I cannot make a guess. Governance is not made of guesses. It has to be anchored on pure science,” the President said.
“Now, you would want to know the places which have been declared modified or there’s been a change, but this is a very dynamic thing. It can change every day, depending on the numbers and, of course, upon the assessment of our health authorities,” he added.
Duterte also expressed hope that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be developed by yearend.
“I am confident that by our readings of other countries who have much improved their scientific study, I think that by December, there will be a vaccine or, at least, if not a vaccine, a medicine that could kill COVID-19. I would prefer that we use the medicine to kill, then get a vaccine later on,” he said.
At the same meeting, National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government can open the economy if coronavirus death rates continue to go down.
Galvez told Duterte that the country recorded only six deaths from COVID-19 from July 1 to 6.
“This is what we see if we address the rate of death: we can open our economy. That is our ultimate objective that we have to manage the death, like other countries like Vietnam and also Israel, that were able to address death,” Galvez said.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases approved on Thursday the second phase of the new National Action Plan (NAP) against COVID-19, according to the NTF chief.
Galvez explained that NAP’s second phase has three imperatives, foremost of which is the people’s compliance and vigilance to the minimum health standards or the principles of people’s support.
“One of the major imperatives of the NAP is the changing mindset, that the success of our campaign is basically anchored on the people’s support and active participation and vigilance to strictly observe and promote the minimum health standards and disease prevention,” he said.
The NTF is following Duterte’s contention to concentrate on prevention, “since prevention will not only save more lives but also save our critical resources,” according to Galvez.
“Once we (are) able to prevent it, we do not need to have extensive healthcare,” he said.
He added that the first phase of the NTF’s campaign against COVID-19 showed that the government was able to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19 in areas with the unity of command and unity of effort.
“We have models like Davao… under Mayor Sara (Duterte), the (Cordillera Administrative Region), Caraga, the National Capital Region, Region VI, Region VIII, Region I and Region II. Unity of effort and collective leadership are key to our success,” Galvez said.
“Our local leaders should be with us together with the private sector,” he added.
Galvez noted that COVID-19 spread easily in Cebu because of the political division and the lack of unity in the region, while the people are not following government policies on quarantine.
“Lastly, we need the capacity of the national government and local government units to address and manage cases in order to minimize the fatality rate… Right now, our healthcare facilities are better. We also do what we called averaging from June 1 to 30, and we only have 11 average deaths,” he said. Jose Rodel Clapano