It’s Not His Fault: Panelo denies Duterte downplayed COVID-19 threat

<i>Photo: PCOO video screengrab </i>
Photo: PCOO video screengrab

Seriously, were you expecting anything out of the ordinary?

President Rodrigo Duterte did not downplay the dangers of COVID-19, his spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a virtual presser today, then blamed the World Health Organization (WHO) for not informing Manila earlier about its impact.

“He didn’t ignore it,” Panelo said. “In February the WHO gave advisories that we shouldn’t worry [about it] since it’s not yet a pandemic…The President was only following the course of rules set by the World Health Organization and what he sees around him.”

Read:  ‘Why do you have to be hysterical?’: Duterte slams rising xenophobia, plays down gravity of Wuhan virus epidemic

The spokesman came to the president’s defense after Duterte claimed in a publicly broadcast speech early this week that he warned Filipinos about the effects of COVID-19, despite downplaying the disease in February when he said there was “nothing” to be scared of “that coronavirus thing.” In March, he even expressed his readiness to “slap” the virus, and that his administration was “prepared to handle this public health emergency in case the worst scenario happens.”

The WHO declared COVID-19 an international public health emergency as early as Jan. 30, the same day that the Philippines recorded its first coronavirus case. The organization declared it a pandemic on March 11.

“He didn’t want to cause anxiety or fear, that’s why he said that. Immediately after that, he started implementing measures,” Panelo said. “When he saw that the threat of the coronavirus was coming, he implemented all measures, he even declared a lockdown.”

Duterte had been reluctant to impose travel restrictions on China despite the outbreak. He ultimately barred travel from China the day after the Philippines saw its first coronavirus death, which was also the first recorded COVID-19 death outside of China.

Read: I told you so? Duterte says he warned public about COVID-19, calls gov’t ‘desperate’

However, Panelo admitted in the same presser that there may have been lapses in the administration’s handling of the outbreak. When cases continued to rise in early March, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III acknowledged that the declaration of a state of public health emergency should have come much earlier.

But instead of being open to criticisms, the spokesman said he prefers to hear suggestions from the public on how they could solve the problem.

I hope at this time of our crisis, let’s not be too hot with over criticizing the government. That was in the past, and steps are being made moving forward. It is better to give us suggestions,” he said.

Residents of Luzon continue to be sequestered in their homes for the remainder of the extended lockdown which is expected to end on April 30. The country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases now stands at 3,870 as of this afternoon, with 182 deaths and 96 recoveries.

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