Duterte to declare emergency after local transfer

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PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte will sign an order today declaring a public health emergency after the Health department confirmed at the weekend the first case of human coronavirus transmission in the country, his spokesman said on Sunday.

Mr. Duterte considered “all critical factors with the aim of safeguarding the health of the Filipino public,” presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement at the weekend.

The Philippines has had six coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections, half of which were confirmed last week. Before that, it had not reported any new cases for weeks.

One of the new cases includes a 62-year-old man who has no travel history overseas. The man’s wife also tested positive for the virus, making her the country’s sixth case. Aside from the couple, a 48-year-old man had also been infected after traveling to Tokyo.

Earlier, three Chinese visitors were infected with the virus — one of them died, and the other two have since recovered and left the country.

The Department of Health on Saturday raised the country’s alert level to Code Red sublevel 1, as health authorities “prepare for a possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases,” according to Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III.

Health officials will intensify contact tracing, surveillance and its testing capacity, in preparation for a possible community transmission.

Mr. Duque had urged the presidential palace to declare a state of public health emergency as early as Feb. 21, when the Philippines only had three confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The move will “be crucial to facilitate the sufficient and immediate access to funding, particularly for local government units, and ease processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions,” Mr. Duque said in a letter to Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea.

“It would also put to rest questions on whether an automatic price freeze on medicines and medical supplies may be made by the DoH and the Department of Trade and Industry,” he wrote.

The virus has killed more than 3,500 people and sickened about 105,000 more globally, mostly in China, according to the World Health Organization.

“There is no need for alarm and worry because from the very start, we’ve been ready,” Mr. Panelo said on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Senate is ready to tap this year’s national budget to help DoH fight the spread of COVID-19, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara said in a statement.

The senator, who heads the finance committee, asked DoH and other agencies to inform the committee of their budget needs so lawmakers could adjust the numbers if needed.

“There can be funds contained in the 2020 General Appropriations Act that can be tapped for this purpose and if these are not enough then DoH should say so,” Mr. Angara said.

The senator said DoH should not be complacent and should be “very transparent” in reporting new cases.

“There is too much false information going around on social media so the government should constantly come out with its reports in all forms of media,” he said.

Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri on Saturday also asked for stronger and more proactive government response, including setting an earlier summer vacation for students and providing test kits to all hospitals. — Gillian M. Cortez and Charmaine A. Tadalan