SENATORS on Thursday hit conflicting government information about the coronavirus situation in the country, which they said would erode state credibility to contain the pandemic.
“Ignorance and incompetence are deadlier than COVID-19,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement, citing as an example Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s claim that the country had a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Other health experts and even the presidential palace belied this, the senator said.
“The confidence of the people in the Inter-Agency Task Force and the government in general to contain the virus is one of the factors to prevent the spread of the virus,” Mr. Drilon said.
“If you see that data are erroneous and there is no standard, the people will surely lose confidence in the government’s ability to contain the virus,” he added.
Mr. Duque on Wednesday told a Senate hearing the country entered a second wave of COVID-19 infections in March, when the Department of Health reported a spike in cases.
He said the first wave started in January when local Health authorities confirmed the infection of three Chinese travelers from China’s Wuhan City, where the virus was first detected.
Mr. Zubiri asked the government to correct the statement, which he said sowed panic.
“The three Chinese nationals that he mentioned that was the first wave, that was not even a ripple,” he told a hearing of the Committee of the Whole on the coronavirus disease 2019 crisis on Thursday. “How could that have been a wave?”
He also said the second-wave claim showed the “incompetence” of the Health department for failing to control the first wave.
Senators Juan Miguel F. Zubiri and Ma. Lourdes Nancy S. Binay also questioned Mr. Duque’s claim that positive patients who don’t show symptoms are not contagious.
“It is worrisome that the Health secretary himself is saying wrong information about COVID-19,” Ms. Binay said at the same hearing in Filipino.
Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque yesterday belied Mr. Duque’s claim, insisting that the country had not entered a second wave. “The first wave continues,” he said in Filipino.
He said the Health chief’s statement was a minor contradiction and difference in opinion does not make the agency less reliable.
Mr. Duque corrected himself during an online hearing of the House health committee yesterday.
“My statement was a casual expression of an epidemiologic fact,” he told congressmen. “Where we are today is really the first major wave of sustained transmission.”
Countries worldwide including the Philippine have imposed lockdowns and asked people to observe social distancing to slow the virus spread.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 213 new infections yesterday, bringing the total to 13,434.
The death toll rose to 846 after four more patients died, it said in a bulletin. Sixty-eight more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 3,000, it added.
Of the 213 new cases, 98 came from Metro Manila, 98 from Central Visayas and 17 from the other regions, DoH said.
Mr. Drilon said amount DoH’s many lapses are the basic data on mass testing, when Mr. Duque claimed the government had targeted to test 30,000 samples a day only to be corrected later on by Vince Dizon, deputy chief implementer of the National Action Plan Against COVID-19, who said the target is 50,000 tests daily.
“These are basic information which should be at his fingertips,” the lawmaker said. “If the officials, who are at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19, cannot agree on basic data, it affects their credibility,” he added.
Mr. Drilon said having accurate data is critical to win the fight against the global pandemic. “All these debates on whether to extend or not the lockdown would be solved by having accurate data, specifically on how many are infected by the disease and their whereabouts. We will keep on imposing a lockdown if we do not know such basic data.”
Mr. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain the pandemic.
People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said. The President extended the so-called enhanced community quarantine twice for the island and thrice for the capital region where novel coronavirus infections are concentrated.
Metro Manila and key cities and regions were kept under a modified lockdown from May 16 to 30, while some businesses were allowed to reopen with a skeletal workforce.
Also yesterday, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson flagged a “pattern of overpricing” in DoH’s procurement of medical equipment in containing the pandemic.
The senator said the agency had bought a name brand equipment that was more expensive. He said the law that gave Mr. Duterte special powers to deal with the pandemic bars buying name brands.
Mr. Lacson said DoH had bought several name brand medical machines and personal protective equipment that cost more.
“So there’s a pattern of overpricing,” he said. “There should be a day of reckoning on all this.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas