Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday defended his government’s policy to fight its coronavirus outbreak and said early intervention had prevented as many as 1.3 million to 3.5 million infections.
Speaking during his annual address to the nation and as the country’s cases grew to 82,040 and nearly 2,000 deaths, Duterte said a lengthy lockdown that was one of the world’s strictest may have hurt the economy but had kept numbers in check.
The Philippines eased restrictions on June 1, but cases have since quadrupled and critics say the country was too slow in detecting infections due to weak testing, which Duterte acknowledged started slowly.
“To me, even if the numbers were much lower, it would still be and would have been worth the sacrifice we made,” he said of the measures.
“Life first before everything,” he said, adding “we initially encountered difficulties ramping up our testing capacity.”
Duterte also reiterated that he would not allow schools to reopen for face-to-face classes until a vaccine was available and had earlier believed one could be ready as early as September.
He said he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping four days ago to make the Philippines a top priority once Beijing had developed its own vaccine for COVID-19.
“I made a plea to President Xi if they have the vaccine can they allow us to be one of the first … so that we can normalize as fast as possible,” he said.
Duterte also promised no relent in a bloody war on drugs that has alarmed the international community and said the Philippines “will not dodge our obligation” to human rights, adding that included protecting people from drugs and corruption.
“Do not do it in my country because I will really kill you that is a commitment,” he said, warning drug dealers.
He also threatened the closure or government expropriation of telecoms firms for what he called “lousy” services, and gave providers until December to improve. —Writing by Martin Petty Editing by Ed Davies