Lack of leadership and the fear of infection by Filipinos were seen as factors in the failure to contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the country, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan took Health Secretary Francisco Duque to task for being unprepared to handle the situation, and for not knowing the basic figures on the spread of the disease, including the number of flights from China and other affected areas over the last two weeks.
At the Senate hearing, the veteran legislator, who called for a travel ban from China on January 27, said these figures would make the government realized “how exposed we are.”
“If we knew the volume, then we would know what we need to do.”
“If we knew the volume, then we would know what we need to do,” the seasoned lawmaker said.
The senator asked the Department of Health (DOH) as to how many from Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the nCoV outbreak – is in the Philippines, but Duque was not able to give the figures immediately. Later, Duque said 31 of the 80 patients under investigation are from Wuhan.
“That flight came from Hong Kong. For all you know you have 15 to 20 asymptomatic passengers. You err on the side of caution, you go the whole mile and figure out where these 300 are. You cannot try to minimize the problem and say apat lang, dito lang, eh kung labing-lima nga dalawampu galing doon asymptomatic, eh ‘di lahat ‘yun nagkahawa-hawa. And that’s why that 17 percent of having contacted, 17 percent of those passengers is completely unacceptable,” he said.
“I do not think that it is just a failure of communication but a failure of leadership from the Secretary of Health,” Pangilinan said at the Senate hearing on the 2019 nCoV.
On detailed questions from the senators, Duque started pointing fingers to other agencies and his own staff on the low rate of contact-tracing among the co-passengers of the first confirmed nCoV infection case who arrived in the country in January 21.
In his defense, the health chief said no issues on contact-tracing were raised.
“This is quite operational and I have been in touch with our epidemiology bureau. In fact, for the record, I would like to state his name. His name is Director Ferchito Avelino and in all of our meetings, there has been no indication or no issues raised to me that this is a problem. He is saying that he has already spoken to my undersecretary but I am not aware that this is the — As Secretary of Health, I don’t know the specific measures of how this should be done,” Duque said.
Government agencies should identify and try to locate all potential carriers of the virus.
“I can see here an issue of lack of transparency on the part of some of my people here. I would like to investigate this,” he added.
Pangilinan also appealed to some Cabinet secretaries who were asking permission to leave the Senate hearing to address the problem of communication.
“May we just appeal to the other Cabinet secretaries who are meant to leave that can we get the problem of communication addressed so that we can-at least, when you leave, we are given the assurance that the matter will be addressed,” he said.
Duque blamed the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines and the Bureau of Immigration and even the Bureau of Quarantine under his department for being only able to trace 17 percent of the 331 passengers who shared the same flight as the first confirmed case who travelled from Wuhan to Hong Kong to Cebu, then to Dumaguete and Manila.
When Pangilinan asked Duque if the national government will follow the World Health Organization’s declaration of public health emergency, the health secretary said not yet as no local transmission has been reported.
Pangilinan also suggested that the DOH hotline be manned 24/7 so that those who have nCoV concerns will have someone informed respond to queries.
“Minsan kailangan lang may makausap. Doon sa maraming sisipunin, sana may makakasagot agad. Kung merong pupuntahan, mababawasan ang takot,” he said.
Earlier, Pangilinan suggested that to remain on top of the situation, the government agencies concerned should identify and try to locate all potential carriers of the virus from the list of all passengers of flights that arrived in the country from Wuhan and other Chinese cities over the last two weeks or so.
He said these agencies should start with all the passengers on the flight from Wuhan that arrived last January 21 together with the two confirmed nCoV carriers.
Pangilinan said the concerned government agencies must as best as they can, identify, quarantine, and monitor all suspected carriers as the first step in containing the spread of the disease.
“Nababahala tayo dahil kulang ang nakikitang proactivity sa pamahalaan sa kabila ng lahat ng disaster na ito,” Pangilinan added.