International Asia This Week Is the Philippines the new epicentre of Covid-19 in Southeast Asia?

Is the Philippines the new epicentre of Covid-19 in Southeast Asia?

The country's total case count is now at 112,593, and its death toll stands at 2,115, second only to Indonesia

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Manila, Philippines—The Philippines saw its highest daily jump in coronavirus cases on Tuesday, August 4, with 6,352 new infections, sparking speculation that the country may become the epicentre of the infection in Southeast Asia.

The country’s total case count is now at 112,593, and its death toll stands at 2,115. Only Indonesia has a higher case count in the region, with 115,056 infections. Indonesia, however, has twice as many deaths as the Philippines has, as the Indonesian death toll due to Covid-19 is at 5,388.

The Philippines’ capital, Manila, has been placed under a two-week lockdown after health workers warned the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte that the country is fighting “a losing battle” against the infection as hospitals are getting overwhelmed by the soaring number of cases.

Concerns over the economy abound, however. “I have to be honest. Our economy cannot withstand a long lockdown,” said Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. Daily losses from a lockdown are estimated at S$340 million, said Stella Quimbo, congresswoman and economist, whose husband, a former deputy speaker for the Philippines’ House of Representatives, announced last week that he also tested positive for the coronavirus.

On August 1, the Philippine College of Physicians held a press conference, with Philippine Medical Association president Dr Jose Santiago asking for a return to stricter lockdown measures—the Enhanced Community Quarantine scheme for two weeks in order to have a “time out” to “recalibrate the government’s COVID-19 strategies.”

Reading a letter addressed to the President, Dr Santiago said, “We proposed that this ECQ be used as a time out to refine our pandemic control strategies, addressing the following urgent conditions: hospital workforce efficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, social amelioration.”

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The call for stricter lockdown measures was a “distress call” from the country’s “overwhelmed” hospital systems.

“We have seen a consistent rise in the number of infections and these, among other scenarios, prompts us to act now and act fast,” Dr Santiago said, adding, “We understand that imposing enhanced community quarantine is a complex decision. Let us remember we need healthy people to reinvigorate the economy. Our healthcare workers can no longer bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies.”

And while the President announced in response that the country’s National Capital Region, which has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country, he chided the physicians for their public call, and accused them of endeavouring to fan the flames of revolution.

In an August 2 address, the President said, “There would not have been [any] need for you to [raise] your hands as if you’re saying ‘revolution, revolution’.

Next time, you can just ask for an audience. Now, if you think that this can be solved by revolution, then by all means, we start it.”

Critics of the President are saying, however, that his government is using the lockdowns due to the pandemic to also curb dissent, citing a draconian Anti-Terrorism law passed last month.

Journalist Maria Ressa said, “If (this) happened at a time when we weren’t under quarantine, there would have been mass protests outside. For Filipinos, to do that meant risking not just the virus, but risking arrest. And if the virus doesn’t get you, prison will.” —/TISG

Read also: Singapore & the Philippines emerge from coronavirus restrictions at the same time, but with big differences

Singapore & the Philippines emerge from coronavirus restrictions at the same time, but with big differences

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