Four more people have contracted COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the Philippines to 24.
President Rodrigo Duterte announced the new cases last night in a Malacañang Palace presser, and said the patients resided in West Crame in San Juan, Project 6 in Quezon City, and Santa Maria in Bulacan. He also announced the suspension of all classes at all levels within the National Capital Region from now until at least March 14.
Duterte said the suspension was needed “to keep safe the children. Second, we’re going to establish a benchmark to see how many [patients] will be discovered. With the suspension of classes, it somehow [will] reduce the number of victims if we keep our children sequestered at home.”
Despite the mounting number of patients, a rambling Duterte said he was still confident that the Philippines could respond well to the health crisis, and assured the public that the government had the budget needed to tackle it, though he did not say how much that was.
He even went historical, enumerating other outbreaks that swept the world.
“You know, the truth is, there’s a cleansing, [well] not really a cleansing. This will not last long, like the first one is the bubonic plague, the Black Death. There were a lot of people who died. Then the Spanish flu just after or before World War I, all these soldiers, they were all dead,” he said in English and Filipino.
“And then we have this thing. We know little about it but I’m sure that scientists all over the world are working overtime to look for the vaccine. This will not last. I am confident that we will survive this contagion,” he added.
He also dismissed the possibility of putting the entire Metro Manila on lockdown — for now. All of the COVID-19 patients, except one, are Metro Manila residents.
“We have not reached that kind of contamination,” he said, responding to a question on the matter. “With this transmission, you want to close down the economy at this time? There will be a time, I suppose — I hope not. I hope God will have mercy on the Filipino people. There might be a time but at this time you want me to? It’s too early.”
“I’m not saying I’m going to wait for everyone to get sick. It’s not that. But you have to balance. Maybe if there is a place that Filipinos frequent, say those who died reached 20,000, [or] 5,000, perhaps I will lock [it down].”
On a more personal level, Duterte also vowed to continue glad-handing the public, in defiance of a no-touching rule set by his bodyguards aimed at protecting the chief executive from the coronavirus.
The Presidential Security Group (PSG) — Duterte’s security detail — also said that they will assess whether the president can attend large public events, and said some will be canceled for his safety. The Department of Health has already urged the public not to attend mass gatherings, such as concerts, to prevent the spread of the virus.
“I want an embrace, why only a handshake? That’s silly,” he said of the PSG’s rule.
“Don’t believe the PSG, when all they do is embrace women,” he joked. “I’m telling you when God calls me right now, I will go. I’ve already become president, the highest achievement of a man. My children will be OK.”
Duterte also said he will continue going to public events.
“No, I will not decline invitations. I will shake hands with everybody. I will go to Mindanao to visit my dead soldiers.”