President Rodrigo Duterte has extended a “state of calamity” in the Philippines by a year as global health experts scramble to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus disease, while the country’s death toll from the pandemic surpassed 5,000 on Tuesday.
The Philippines has the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in East Asia, and is No. 2 in the region behind Indonesia in deaths related to the disease, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Duterte approved a one-year extension – effective Sept. 13, 2020 – through Proclamation No. 1021, but the state of calamity may be lifted or prolonged further as circumstances warrant, the president told a news conference late Monday.
“The extension will, among others, effectively afford the national government, as well as local government units, ample latitude to continue utilizing appropriate funds, including the Quick Response Fund, in their disaster preparedness and response efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, monitor and control prices of basic necessities and prime commodities, and provide basic services to the affected populations,” the proclamation read.
It noted that the number of COVID-19 cases in the country and deaths had risen despite efforts and interventions.
Duterte declared a national state of calamity on March 17, two days after he placed the entire Metro Manila region under a strict lockdown. The government has eased the lockdown in some areas of the capital region, partly in a bid to induce economic activity.
On Monday, he said the Philippines was at the mercy of the coronavirus and advised people to wear masks as the pandemic had not yet been wiped out.
“The only thing that we can do really is to wear a mask, wear a face mask, and that’s it – and wait for the vaccine,” Duterte said.
Previously, Duterte said he pinned his hopes on China and Russia developing vaccines and sharing them with the Philippines. In addition, experts from Moscow have been given the green light to do test trials here by October.
“If I were to try to answer a question of how fast it is developing, the dynamics is that we are in still waters,” Duterte said, referring to the vaccine.
He described the Philippines as a rudderless ship whose engine had failed at sea.
“And that is what we have unless the vaccine is there,” he said of efforts to create deals with other nations.
On Tuesday, Philippine health officials reported an additional 1,635 COVID-19 infections, bringing the nationwide total to 291,789. The officials also recorded 50 deaths, bringing the toll to 5,049.
Globally, more than 31.3 million COVID-19 infections and more than 965,000 deaths have been recorded, according to Johns Hopkins University.
VP at odds with Duterte over pandemic response
During his Monday speech, Duterte singled out Vice President Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition, whom he accused of seeking to undermine him amid the health crisis. In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately.
Robredo, who has been helping transport thousands of Manila workers, said Tuesday that it was simply not enough to lie down and wait for help from other countries. Her office has been running free shuttles for hospital and front-line workers.
“I think it’s not enough that just because we already have hospitals, beds and funeral parlors, all we need to do is just wait for a vaccine,” Robredo said.
She said the virus could be suppressed by medical interventions, adding that the government should address humanitarian needs created by COVID-19 including severe mental stress, hunger and unemployment. She said the economy also needs to be rebuilt by restructuring private finance in the wake of the pandemic.
“It won’t be solved by spraying pesticide over Manila from an airplane,” Robredo said.
“How will we have confidence if, every time the country’s leader holds a press conference, we do not get any clear answers? If no one is leading, the public will help each other through this,” Robredo said.