Gov’t ‘testing czar’ slams Straits Times for calling PH next COVID-19 hub of Southeast Asia

Photo: Edu Manzano/FB
Photo: Edu Manzano/FB

Oh, look who got his feelings hurt.

The Duterte government’s “testing czar” (yes, we have one) called out Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times for saying that the Philippines is bound to become “Southeast Asia’s coronavirus hotspot” because the number of cases in the country is steadily increasing.

Vince Dizon, the deputy chief implementer of the administration’s policy against COVID-19, said that he didn’t want to comment about the article, but spent a few seconds in a Makati press conference today just talking about it.

“First of all, it’s very difficult to make speculative statements like that. I’d rather not comment on speculations made in another country,” he said of the article, which was written by Manila correspondent Raul Dancel.

Read: PH Health Dep’t ramps up contact tracing 5 months after start of COVID-19 pandemic

He then said that it was just natural for the country to witness a steady increase of COVID-19 cases because the Philippines transitioned to the looser general community quarantine (GCQ) in June.

The stricter enhanced community quarantine was reimposed this month in Metro Manila and neighboring areas.

“But I think what the data shows us since we ramped up testing, we have found more positives. And people have to understand, that is normal. We didn’t test before, so we didn’t find a lot of positive cases. But we all know that when we opened, during the GCQ in June, because of the increased interaction of our countrymen, because they were leaving their homes, the transmission [of the virus] became higher. We can only know the extent of COVID-19 infections if we test and trace,” he said in English and Filipino.

Dizon also claimed that our testing rate is higher than in other Southeast Asian countries.

“Other countries such as Indonesia, their testing is just half of what we are doing now. I think we are the highest in Southeast Asia in terms of tests done per day. We reach 30,000 per day. And Singapore reaches less than half of that,” he said.

“I don’t want to comment about that article in Singapore. That’s speculative,” he lamented after already voicing a fair amount of his opinion.

Read: Duterte scolds health experts for trying to ‘demean’ gov’t, claims they’re ‘not doing anything’

The “testing czar” is slightly mistaken in his data. Indonesia conducts an average of 20,000 tests each day (that’s more than half of the Philippines). Singapore does 40,000 tests in a day, and as of last month, collected 177,000 swabs per million population, the highest in Southeast Asia (if The Straits Times is to be believed.)

Dancel’s article, which went viral yesterday, said that the Duterte government “tallied 6,352 new cases [days ago], bringing the country’s total caseload to 112,593. By comparison, Indonesia, which has the most number of cases in South-east Asia, has 115,056 infections.”

Judging by the numbers, the Philippines might really become the epicenter of the pandemic in the region. We now have 115,980 cases as of yesterday, less than a thousand to Indonesia’s 116,871, which tops Southeast Asia.

Critics have said that the pandemic problem in the Philippines has become worse due to the Duterte government’s lack of comprehensive strategy, poor contact tracing, and the inadequate number of healthcare workers, among other factors. Meanwhile, other Southeast Asian nations appear to have controlled the spread of the coronavirus, such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.


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