The public hearing on the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) that the Senate Committee on Health conducted last 4 February has shed light on the situation and the actions of the government.
Arguably, the most important finding during the hearing is that the World Health Organization (WHO) itself finds the response of the government commendable, as expressed by Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative in the Philippines.
When WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January, the President ordered a travel ban on visitors, only from Hubei province at first, and then from all of mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau eventually, upon the recommendation of Department of Health (DoH) officials.
As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, I kept myself abreast of the latest information on the outbreak, so the recommendation to impose the travel ban came from me aside from our health officials. Needless to say, I also initiated the public hearing.
I’m grateful to all the key officials, especially the Cabinet members, who accepted my invitation to answer the people’s questions. They have greatly helped in easing the fears of Filipinos, especially those who panicked when news after news of the outbreak came out in both the mainstream and social media.
Their concern is, of course, understandable. After all, we only want what’s best for ourselves and our families. We only want to protect the health and welfare of our loved ones.
Yet, one piece of information that was emphasized during the meeting is that it is not actually necessary for the general public to wear face masks. It is only necessary to those who are having flu-like symptoms and to those who are at high risk, like health professionals who are working at the frontlines confronting the disease.
It’s a simple yet significant advice. Many Filipinos went panic buying, and many sellers took advantage of the situation by jacking up prices of face masks. Ever the opportunists, detractors of the government also entered the fray to advance their own interests and agenda.
I asked these online bashers to participate in the hearing so that they can actually share with the public their ideas on how to better handle the situation. But alas, no one came. I surmise they only want to sow fear among the people and hatred against the administration and have really nothing positive to contribute to keep our country safe.
The purpose of the public hearing was to let the public know the truth, so no one will be able to sugarcoat the situation.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that only 17 percent of the passengers had been tracked among the airline passengers who were in the same flights as the two Chinese nationals who arrived in the country on 21 January and later tested positive for 2019-nCoV ARD. For this I called their attention and took them to task.
All of these passengers should be traced and accounted for. It is for this reason that I was adamant and relentless in calling for the DoH to coordinate with the Bureau of Immigration, the Philippine National Police and other relevant authorities to find all the passengers.
Many reporters asked me if the Committee on Health would conduct a separate investigation on the matter. Of course, I am open to the possibility should the need arise. Public servants should always be held accountable for their performance.
But for now, let us give our Health officials enough time to do their job. There is only so much that they can do in a day. So, let us not take that opportunity from them by making them appear in the Senate again to answer questions.
Times like this call for unity and cooperation. Fearmongering, bashing and politicking will only drag all of us down. So, I’m asking Filipinos to give due consideration to our government officials and health workers who are doing what they can to keep us safe.
I also call on our countrymen to show compassion to our compatriots who want to come home from affected areas in China. Some of them arrived yesterday morning at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga and are now undergoing quarantine at the Athlete’s Village in the New Clark City in Tarlac. They need care and support, not rejection and apathy.
Our Health and Foreign Affairs officials are making sure that all protocols were followed in the repatriation process, so that the virus would not spread in case our compatriots were infected. The residents of Pampanga and Tarlac have nothing to worry about. You can rest assured that the government remains on top of this situation.
Let us help one another and work together to fight and defeat the 2019-nCoV ARD.