MANILA, Philippines — Complacency in the face of a downward trend in COVID-19 cases nationwide could lead to a resurgence of infections similar to what has happened in Europe, President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III warned in a taped briefing that aired late Monday night.
Duque said that the improving COVID-19 outlook in the Philippines should is not enough reason for the public to do away with precautions such as physical distancing and wearing of masks, which is what people in European countries did when cases in their countries went down.
“Everywhere, we can see that the cases are going down, and each major island group has recorded less than 1,000 cases per day on the average. So what we’re seeing is a good thing, and we hope that it continues,” Duque told Duterte, speaking partly in Filipino.
“But we can’t be lax in following minimum public health standards and other social measures,” Duque added.
That, he said, was the reason why COVID-19 cases had started to rise again in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.
Duterte agreed with Duque, adding that there were reports that people in some European countries had stopped wearing masks as they thought the downtrend of COVID-19 cases meant that they had eradicated the virus.
This, the president said, was done despite the warning of health experts that COVID-19 spread was still imminent.
“These people are in a rush… they removed the mask requirement. So it’s no longer mandatory, and they all do what they want,” Duterte said.
Duque also mentioned the United Kingdom’s so-called freedom day, when COVID-19 restrictions were minimized by the government, to engage economic movement again. This led some people in the UK to think that going maskless outdoors and not observing physical distancing would be okay.
“‘Let’s not be like those countries in Europe that were mentioned by the president — which are now the center of the global pandemic because they became careless about what used to be minimum public health standards,” Duque said.
According to Duque, what happened to those European countries should be a lesson for the Philippines that the pandemic could not be won by merely vaccinating people.
“We have to increase our vaccination coverage, sustain the trajectory — couple that with a very disciplined compliance to minimum public health standards,” Duque said.
The affected European countries are thinking about reimposing strict lockdown protocols to curb an impending huge surge of COVID-19 cases. Germany and Austria have already reinstated stricter quarantine measures.
In the Philippines, health authorities have seen a steady decline in new infections, but experts have also warned that surges may be seen if people become complacent.
Since Metro Manila was put under Alert Level 2 last Nov. 5, more people — including children — have started going out to public areas like malls and parks.
DOH officials and health experts have warned that the pandemic — particularly with the presence of the Delta variant — remained a threat.
Last Nov. 8, the DOH said it had detected the B.1.617.1 COVID-19 variant in Pampanga — the strain formerly known as the Kappa variant, which was designated by the World Health Organization as a variant under monitoring.
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