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Philippines Questions WHO Assessment of COVID-19 Rise

Basilio Sepe and Froilan Gallardo
Manila and Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
2020-06-29
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Stranded passengers including overseas Filipino workers take shelter under an elevated highway outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, June 11, 2020.
Stranded passengers including overseas Filipino workers take shelter under an elevated highway outside the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, June 11, 2020.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

Philippine officials said Monday they disagreed with a World Health Organization assessment that the country saw the fastest rise of COVID-19 infections among 20 countries and territories in WHO’s Western Pacific region.

While conceding that the number of cases rose, presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the number of deaths had been limited. His statement came before the Philippine health department released its daily tally showing that 985 were infected, bringing the total to 36,438, and 11 had died, bringing the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,255.

While the government could have done better, President Rodrigo Duterte “did the very best that he can and we are in control of the situation,” Roque said.

“Now, the WHO said that we have registered the fastest rise of cases in the entire Western Pacific region. Is this true? We beg to disagree,” Roque told reporters, noting that it was unfair for the Philippines to be compared to smaller Southeast Asian nations including Singapore.

Roque was reacting to a WHO report over the weekend that from June 16 to 27, more than 8,100 cases were logged in the Philippines, according to local media reports. Second-place Singapore recorded more than 2,300 cases during the same period.

Neighbor Indonesia, the largest and most populous country in Southeast Asia, is not among the 22 countries in WHO’s Western Pacific region but recorded more than 12,800 COVID-19 cases during the same period, according to health figures.

Nearly 10.2 million cases

Globally, nearly 10.2 million cases and more than 500,000 deaths have been recorded since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

As of Monday, WHO had China as the top source of COVID-19 deaths for the Western Pacific region at 4,634, followed by the Philippines at 1,255. While there were significantly more confirmed COVID-19 cases (43,000) in Singapore, deaths have been limited to 26.

Roque noted that Singapore is a tiny city-state whose population is about 5 million – smaller and about one-third the population of the Metro Manila region’s 14 million people.

“We are not perfect, but I guess we could have done better,” Roque said.

Maria Rosario Vergeire, the Philippine undersecretary of health, warned that comparisons of COVID-19 cases between nations must be done carefully, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported on Monday. She added that factors such as health care system capacity were important in such comparisons.

“If a comparison is needed, it is best to compare all the countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,” Vergeire said.

WHO representatives in Manila did not immediately respond to requests from BenarNews for comment.

Roque, meanwhile, said a study by the University of the Philippines showed that had Duterte not declared a COVID-19 lockdown when he did, the country would have had millions of infections.

“We have avoided 3.6 million cases of COVID,” Roque said. “What we are doing now is that we are making sure that we still don’t have a vaccine but we can slow down the spread of the disease by giving medical assistance to those in need.”

Duterte is expected to announce on Tuesday whether the quarantine order stays in Manila and in Cebu in the central Visayas region, which has experienced a sudden rise in cases in recent weeks.

While Manila has been under a general quarantine, the government has eased up on rules and has allowed certain public functions to resume. Cebu, however, remains under an enhanced quarantine.

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