From virus slapping to staying united: Duterte’s change of tone in addressing COVID-19

February 17, 2020 - 11:18 AM
Duterte in a video message
President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a video message to Filipinos about the 2019 novel coronavirus. (Screengrab from Radio Television Malacañang via Facebook)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s video directly addressing Filipinos about the 2019 novel coronavirus or COVID-19 earned criticisms and questions alike from the online community, who recalled how he initially talked about the issue in a non-serious manner.

The chief executive delivered the video on February 13, Thursday, weeks after the country had its first confirmed case of the deadly coronavirus strain.

He updated the nation about the cases and how the Department of Health, the primary agency tasked to create and oversee health-related policies, has been responding to the threat declared as a global health emergency.

Duterte also urged the public to be mindful of their personal hygiene given the highly communicable nature of the viral disease.

“To my fellow Filipinos, I understand that many of you are worried about the world health and well-being of our loved ones. It is normal to feel anxious, concerned and even afraid. Maging malinis,” the president said as he read a prepared speech.

Video Message on the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte reminds his countrymen to always stay vigilant and take extra precaution amidst the ongoing outbreak of the Corona Virus Disease or COVID-19, and sends his assurance to the public that the government and its partners from the medical and private sectors are working hand-in-hand to protect the nation against this threat, as he delivers his message at the Malacañan Palace on February 12, 2020.#2020DuterteVision#DuterteLegacy#ComfortableLifeForAll#PartnerForChange

Posted by Radio Television Malacañang – RTVM on Wednesday, February 12, 2020


“Hugasan ‘yung kamay frequently, ‘yung paulit ulit. Kung every handshake mo, kung humatsing ka, takpan mo bunganga mo at tingnan mo, hindi ka makahawa sa ibang tao. Kung ikaw naman ay may ubo, mag-mask ka na lang,” Duterte added.

RELATED: Duterte asks for calm, vigilance as threat of COVID-19 grows

He also urged Filipinos to remain calm, vigilant and responsible amid the virus scare and to give their full “trust and cooperation” to the government.

“Tayo ay magkaisa. Together as one nation, this challenge can be overcome,” Duterte said.

His video message was delivered five days after Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong similarly addressed the island city-state amid the threat of COVID-19.

Singapore is the second country with the highest number of confirmed cases of the viral disease.

‘Sampalin ang g*go’ 

As Duterte delivered his message, there were some Filipinos who shared their concerns and observations about the nature and the circumstances surrounding the video.

A Twitter user pointed out that it has been “weeks” since COVID-19 had initially unsettled Filipinos considering Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, has direct flights to the country.

“After those weeks na nagkaroon (ng) panic, ngayon lang? Other countries have already assured their citizens weeks ago. Singapore’s PM delivered a reassuring message. Tapos sasampalin mo lang. And then you’ll only address it just now?” he said.

Another Twitter user remarked that Duterte’s initiative to address the nation seemed to be “for the sake of appearance” only.

“This video of Duterte would have been nice if only it did not come after his response and his statements were compared to how other leaders —like Lee Hsien Loong—responded to the COVID19 threat. Now it looks more like Duterte is just doing so for the sake of appearance,” he said.

Duterte only addressed the threat of COVID-19 in the first week of February, several days after the country has seen its first confirmed case of the virus.

RELATED: Days after confirmed nCoV cases, Duterte spoke about the alarm and defended China

He was also initially reluctant to issue a travel ban on China, the country where the epidemic originated, due to concerns about supposed diplomatic relations with the Asian giant.

When he first imposed one on flights coming from Hubei province, Filipinos chided him for issuing the order even though the region has already been on lockdown by the Chinese government.

Around the same time that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed the Philippines’ first case of COVID-19, Duterte had his eyes set on prohibiting Cabinet members from traveling to the United States due to Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s visa cancellation.

The chief executive previously quipped that he will slap the virus, which is clearly invisible to the naked eye and minuscule in nature.

“P—inang idioto na corona ito. Hinahanap ko gusto ko sampalin ang gago,” Duterte said before local government executives in Pasay on February 10.

He also claimed that Filipinos cannot get sick easily and cited their fervor in praying instead.

His remarks have turned into memes and jokes among the local online community, including satire pages.