MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has urged the public to forego some Christmas traditions – including parties and the asking for gifts from godparents – this year as he expressed hope that the new COVID-19 strain won't enter the Philippines.
Duterte said the new virus strain has made it harder for doctors to address the pandemic, which has so far infected more than 74 million people worldwide and claimed about 1.6 million lives.
"It is not everyday but it’s nobody’s fault actually that there is a virus, a microbe, that invented itself, and… I think somewhere in Canada or America that there’s a mutant, which makes it hard for the medical people to deal with the problem, doubly hard," Duterte said during a public address last Wednesday.
"I hope it (will) not land on our shores and they can limit whatever adverse effects it would impose on the people. We have suffered enough and to suffer more is not acceptable anymore," he added.
Duterte reminded the public to comply with the health protocols set by the government like physical distancing, frequent handwashing and wearing of face masks and face shields. He also called on Filipinos to make "sacrifices" this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"It would be a dumper to really talk about it but this Christmas, if possible, let us avoid parties. If your neighbors observe you and if they call the police, you might be accosted and end up being embarrassed. Make a sacrifice… This is the only Christmas where I would ask you to cooperate so that everybody will be safe, healthy and alive," Duterte said.
Duterte also discouraged the asking of gifts from godparents, saying it might place the gift-givers at risk.
"Do not ask for gifts from your godparents… If your godfather and godmother decide to buy you gifts, they would be forced to go out," the president said.
"Ask for gifts hopefully, in God's own time, maybe next December. In the meantime, what should we do is to pray for our country and prepare for those who are sick. And if you eat, and if I eat…I say my prayer, 'God, remember those who have the food but who cannot eat,'" he added.
Duterte reiterated that the police can enforce health protocols because the state has the duty to safeguard public health.
"Why do we apprehend people? Is this a crime? No, it’s not a crime if you fail in the protocols. But if you are in public, you will be asked to stand aside and you are brought to the police station or to the nearest swabbing outfit there and if you test positive, you would be forced (to undergo quarantine)," the president said.
"So what is this? is this similar to communism? No. It is the police power of the state to protect public health, public safety, public interest," he added.
'Stricter quarantine possible'
Citing health department data, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the decreasing trend in COVID-19 infections is slowing down. He said cases have plateaued and are showing initial signs of increase in most regions. The plateauing of cases was observed from Nov. 12 to 26.
"The decreasing trend is slowing down that's why the DOH (Department of Health) is saying this could be the start of another increase in the numbers because some of our countrymen were complacent during the Christmas season," Roque said.
"This is just starting and it can still be reversed," he added.
Roque said a stricter quarantine may be imposed if the country's health system capacity indicators reach critical levels.
"That is an indicator that can bring us to a stricter quarantine classification," the Palace spokesman said.
"If we become complacent, we might have a strict quarantine in January especially in Metro Manila. That's why we are repeatedly reminding you to take care of your lives so we can work," he added.
Metro Manila, Batangas, Isabela (excluding Santiago City), Iloilo City, Tacloban City, Lanao del Sur, Iligan, Davao City and Davao del Norte will be under general community quarantine until the end of the year while the rest of the country will be under the most lenient modified general community quarantine.
The health department has assured the public that it has contingency plans in case the Philippines records a surge in COVID-19 infections after the holidays.
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