Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police to arrest people who do not wear masks in public and even offered an unusual suggestion for beating the coronavirus – wash hands in gasoline – according to a Tuesday broadcast.
The health department reported two deaths and 1,951 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the totals to 1,837 and 70,764. That number is nearly four times more than the 18,638 cases recorded on June 1 despite government quarantine efforts.
“We have to ask our police to be more strict. They will be arrested. Catch them. A little shame or put them on notice forever,” Duterte told his cabinet ministers during a Monday night meeting that aired on national television Tuesday morning.
“Who wants to be arrested? But if you are brought to the police station and detained there, that would give you a lesson for all time,” Duterte said. “I have no qualms in arresting people who are not wearing masks. You are transmitting (a) virus, you are a carrier.”
Duterte, who is not a doctor, said people must wear masks at least twice and disinfect with alcohol or Lysol between uses. He also advised people to wash their hands with gasoline.
“That virus will die, true. If you want to disinfect, look for gasoline and soak your hands, just don’t do it inside your house,” Duterte said.
It was not clear if the president was joking. In the past, he has delivered off-the-cuff remarks that his spokesmen later had to explain. But the comment on using gasoline appeared to be ill-timed, and came as the country struggles to limit the pandemic.
Worldwide, the disease has infected more than 14.7 million people and killed more than 610,000 as of Tuesday, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said authorities were preparing to standardize penalties for violators.
“We want just one implementation – how many days will violators of the face mask or physical distancing rules have to stay in jail, how much is the fine,” said Año, a former military general.
Critics have accused Duterte of militarizing the response to COVID-19 instead of acting with compassion by providing access to free public health services, testing and treatment.
Since Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon under quarantine in March, reports have surfaced of teenagers who violated a curfew being locked up in dog cages. A former army officer was gunned down by police after an altercation when he demanded to cross a road block in April.
Nationally, more than 61,000 have been arrested based on data from the nation’s Joint Task Force COVID Shield for violating quarantine protocols. About 2,000 of those arrested remain in jail, according to officials.
Duterte has relaxed quarantine measures in Manila and nearby cities, though mayors in suburban areas were given the power to impose their own lockdowns.
“Duterte is projecting his strongman image to mask the fact that the government has been negligent in responding to the pandemic,” said Roneo Clamor, the deputy leader of Filipino human rights group Karapatan.
“It is as clear as day that Duterte has militarized the government’s response to the pandemic,” he said, pointing out that the president has appointed ex-generals to key posts in his cabinet and tasked them with leading the anti-COVID19 response instead of civilian doctors.
Meanwhile, the government said it aims to test millions of Filipinos for COVID-19.
“Our target is 10 million Filipinos to be tested by 2021. We hope to do the test at 32,000 to 40,000 a day,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque said Tuesday.
Nearly 1.1 million people have been tested so far and the government expects 10 million of the nation’s 109.6 million people to be tested by the second quarter of next year, according to Reuters news service.