Coronavirus

What Is a Public Health Emergency and What Does It Mean for Coronavirus in the Philippines?

President Duterte declared a state of public health emergency following a renewed panic in the Philippines over the coronavirus. This, after reported cases jumped from three to at least 30 in less than a week.
10 March 2020, 10:25am
public health emergency philippines coronavirus
Workers disinfect a train compartment to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in Manila on March 10, 2020. Photo by Maria TAN / AFP. 

The novel coronavirus continues to spread outside of China. After 110,148 confirmed cases and 3,826 deaths in the span of about three months, the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down. In the Philippines, there is now a renewed panic over the outbreak after a sudden jump in reported cases last week. From three cases (including the first death outside China), the Department of Health (DOH) said that the number had risen to 33 as of Tuesday, March 10.

The rising number of cases has led Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a state of public health emergency on Monday, March 9.

"The outbreak of COVID-19 constitutes an emergency that threatens national security, which requires a whole-of-government response," Duterte said in Proclamation No. 922, signed on Sunday, March 8.

The declaration came weeks after the first case of coronavirus in the Philippines was reported. Many have blasted the president for not taking action sooner.

During a press conference on Monday, March 9, Duterte said that there is no need to implement a city lockdown in Metro Manila.

Filipinos are now worried that there are many other infections going undetected, wondering how exactly declaring a public health emergency can address the situation.

What Is a Public Health Emergency?

The proclamation declaring a public health emergency was signed on the recommendation of the DOH, which raised the country’s coronavirus alert system to Code Red-Sublevel 1 over the weekend after the first case of local transmission was confirmed. This case is a 62-year-old man who is now in critical condition. Of the remaining cases in the country, only two have recovered, while the rest are still being treated.

With the proclamation signed, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III now has the power to call on the police and other law enforcement agencies to assist in outbreak response efforts.

“[A state of Public Health Emergency can] facilitate the mobilisation of resources, ease processes including procurement of critical logistics and supplies, and intensify reporting and quarantine measures," Duque said.

The health emergency releases funds to help local governments prepare for a massive community spread. It also eases rules on the procurement of testing kits, masks, protective gear, and other resources public health workers may need to combat the virus.

The government currently only has 4,500 testing kits and expects 2,000 more from the World Health Organization in the coming days.

"As soon as we get more, then we will be able to expand our coverage of who will be tested," Duque said.

How Will This Affect Your Life?

Duque said that the government’s current strategy is to conduct intensified contact tracing to find those who may have been in contact with the infected patients. Contract tracing is done by listing people who may have been exposed to an infected person, then monitoring them for symptoms.

If there is an increase in local cases whose link cannot be established, the DOH will shift to a community-level quarantine or lockdown and possible nationwide suspension of work or school.

Under this current state of public health emergency, patients suspected to have coronavirus could face sanctions if they refuse to go under quarantine. Duterte urged all residents to “act within the bounds of the law” and comply with advisories issued by the government to prevent the further spread of the disease.

“In the meantime, let us refrain from visiting public places and/or attending mass gatherings. DOH is exhausting all its efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19,” Duque said.

The public health emergency will remain in effect until Duterte lifts or withdraws it.

How Many Cases Are There in the Philippines?

As of writing, there are 33 coronavirus cases in the Philippines. The number of confirmed cases went from 10 on the morning of Monday, March 9, to 33 on Tuesday, March 10. Before March 7, only three cases had been reported.

The DOH has also probed 700 patients suspected of infection around the country. Forty-eight remain admitted in hospitals, while 646 have been discharged.

Meanwhile, at least 89 Filipinos outside the Philippines have contracted the coronavirus, including four cases in Hong Kong, 80 from a cruise ship docked in Japan, three in Singapore, and two in the United Arab Emirates.

How Are People Reacting to the Health Emergency?

Several cities around the Philippines have already declared class suspensions until the end of this week. The Department of the Interior and Local Government has also said that they would send home any student found roaming around a mall or cinema. Many private companies have also instructed employees to work from home if possible.

Public establishments such as malls and clubs have been conducting mandatory temperature checks for people entering.

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