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

President Rodrigo Duterte in yesterday’s press conference discussing the Wuhan virus. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang
President Rodrigo Duterte in yesterday’s press conference discussing the Wuhan virus. Photo: Screenshot from Radio Television Malacañang

Despite the recent death of a Wuhan coronavirus patient in Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday dismissed the gravity of the epidemic and called out Filipinos who want to deport Chinese nationals from the country as being racists.

In a press conference in Malacañang Palace, Duterte told the public that they have nothing to be worried about.

“Everything is well in the country. There is really nothing to be extra scared of that coronavirus thing. Although it has affected a lot of countries, one or two [patients] in any country is not really that fearsome,” the president said.

In fact, while the Philippines has only seen two confirmed cases, the number of cases has edged up in some other countries. Japan currently has the most outside of China, with 20. In mainland China, meanwhile, the number of cases has skyrocketed to more than 20,000 since the outbreak began just over a month ago.

Read: Duterte bans all flights from China as Wuhan coronavirus patient dies in PH

Duterte said that while one patient in the Philippines died of the virus, he had recently traveled to the country from China, making it an “imported case,” not a local infection. He also noted that another Chinese patient being monitored for potential coronavirus infection who passed away in San Lazaro Hospital had died of HIV.

“There’s only one who has died of the coronavirus. The other is also a Chinese, [but] he died of HIV. Let us be clear about this. There were two dead but two different causes of death,” he said.

He also hit back at netizens who are calling for the deportation of Chinese nationals from the Philippines, ostensibly to prevent the spread of the Wuhan virus, which is officially known as 2019-nCoV.

“[Y]ou know it’s not only a case of bad taste, but it is not good for us Filipinos to be saying that. Remember that there are now so many thousands of Filipinos in China and they cannot go out, because coming in or going out of China is prohibited,” he said, apparently referring to the strict limitations on travel Chinese authorities have imposed on cities hit hardest by the outbreak.

The president added that he wouldn’t stop Chinese nationals from traveling to the Philippines from other countries, such as Canada and the United States, despite his decision to bar travelers of all nationalities coming directly from any part of China itself.

“If you ask me if I will bar the Chinese from entering, the answer, of course, is no. That is utter disrespect to a human being… We can assure the Chinese government that we too will help, and this kind of mentioning the Chinese and blaming them [for the virus], it’s like xenophobia,” he said.

“You hate anything that is Chinese. It is not good because we have so many Filipinos [living] in China. Second is, [even] if there are none, we are a community of nations. We cooperate. China has been kind to us. We can only also show the same favor to them.”

“Stop this xenophobia thing,” he said.

Duterte has long been known for his cozy relationship with Beijing, and even went as far as to announce the Philippines’ separation from one of its oldest allies, the United States, in favor of China. His critics, however, have accused him of being Beijing’s lapdog and repeatedly refusing to stand up to the regional power to defend the Philippines’ interests.

Referring to Filipino netizens who blame China for somehow giving rise to the virus, he added, that the virus could “also incubate in some other places.”

“It [just] happened in China, at least the first [patient]. That’s it. But that is not the fault of anybody. Not the Chinese, not the Filipinos, not anyone.”

The president, who is not an epidemiologist, also insisted that the Wuhan virus will go the same way as the SARS virus — to which it is related — following the global outbreak of 2002 and 2003.

“Like SARS, I assure you, even without the vaccines, it will just die a natural death,” he said.

“The response of the people from the initial reports of the coronavirus was almost hysterical. When there was really no need for it, actually. And if there is really a virus going around, why do you have to be hysterical? Why don’t you just go to the hospital and have yourself admitted?”

The number of people in the Philippines who are being monitored for potential coronavirus infections has increased to 80, Rappler reports. Eight of the new suspected cases are people who came into contact with the first coronavirus patient and her companion, who died on Saturday.


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