WHO commended Philippines over fight vs COVID-19. Some are doubting confirmed cases.

March 3, 2020 - 3:54 PM
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South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear sanitize a street in front of the city hall after the rapid rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease of (COVID-19) in Daegu, southeast of the capital Seoul, South Korea, March 2, 2020. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Not all are convinced that the Philippines has fewer cases of COVID-19 compared to its neighbor countries despite the World Health Organization’s citation of the country’s preventive measures.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus previously expressed hope that the novel coronavirus could be contained, citing that there are nine countries which have no new cases in the past two weeks as proof.

These countries are the Philippines, Belgium, Cambodia, Finland, India, Nepal, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka and Sweden.

Fourteen other countries also did not have new cases for more than a week now.

“The key message that should give all countries hope, courage and confidence is that this virus can be contained,” Ghebreyesus said in his opening remarks at the mission briefing on COVID-19 last week.

For Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, the recognition meant that the Philippine government’s efforts are worth emulating.

“Sinasabi nila, dapat siguro, gawin [ng mundo] yung ginagawa ng Pilipinas. ‘Yun yung sinasabi nila na, halimbawa [tayo],” Duque told radio DZMM.

As of March 2, there are only three confirmed cases in the country with one of those cases resulting in death. Meanwhile, there are 43 persons under investigation.

The recognition from the WHO earned praises from Filipinos online who thanked the government for a job well done.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Some Filipinos, however, expressed skepticism given the health agency’s earlier shortcomings in handling cases.

The government was also previously reluctant in imposing a travel ban against mainland China.

President Rodrigo Duterte only ordered travel restrictions after health officials confirmed the first case in the country.

The travel ban then expanded to include any person coming from China’s special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau as well as Taiwan, after the first confirmed patient’s partner also tested positive for coronavirus and later died.

One Twitter user compared the country’s situation to that of South Korea, which cases suddenly rose to over 4,000.

“Korea has more cases of COVID-19 next to China. Why? Because they are quick to run tests. Their response to the outbreak is commendable,” user @nerdytalks_04 said.

“Yet Philippines here, has no new reported cases for 2 weeks now. Do you think PH’s response to the outbreak is at par with Korea? Don’t think so,” she added.

Another online user noted that it seemed dubious that only three tested positive out of the thousands of Chinese arrivals in the country.

“Out of 500,000 Chinese arrivals since December, with 5,000 from Wuhan, the Philippines only has 3 confirmed cases. Seriously,” the user tweeted.

Supporters of the government responded against these critics, saying they are just spreading malice.

Experts feared a silent epidemic

On Friday, a Time magazine article quoted health experts as saying that the deadly SARS-CoV-2 might be spreading undetected throughout Southeast Asia.

This concern came after China met with some of its neighbors’ foreign ministers in Laos last February 20.

According to Reuters, ASEAN foreign ministers joined hands during this “hastily called encounter” and shouted:

“Stay strong, Wuhan! Stay strong, China! Stay strong, ASEAN!”

Wuhan in China’s Hubei province is the epicenter of the new pathogen.

A study by five researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that in terms of statistics, the current number of cases in Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia only have few to no cases at all.

“Earlier this month, a study by five researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that it is statistically implausible that Cambodia and Thailand do not have more cases, and virtually impossible that Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has not reported a single one. Based on its direct flights from Wuhan, the archipelago should have at least five patients by now,” Time magazine’s Laignee Barron wrote.

Health experts told Time that there should definitely be cases, particularly in Indonesia given that two million Chinese tourists visit that country every year.

“I think the surveillance we’re doing now is too loose,” said Dr. Shela Putri Sundawa, an Indonesian physician.

As of March 1, Cambodia only has one confirmed case while Thailand only has 42. Indonesia only confirmed its first two cases on March 2.

Meanwhile, South Korea has the highest number of infected patients in the WHO’s Western Pacific Region at 3,736.