Palace claims COVID-19 response was ‘science-backed.’ Was it?

September 24, 2020 - 2:44 PM
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A health worker replaces an oxygen tank in a tent set up in a hospital parking lot for patients under observation for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manila, Philippines, April 15, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo)

Palace said its pandemic response is guided by science as it defends the country from the low rank in a new scientific study that showed how countries fared in terms of suppressing COVID-19.

The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, placed the Philippines at the 66th spot among 99 countries in its study titled “Lancet COVID-19 Commission Statement on the occasion of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly” which was published on September 14.

Their data was based on the countries’ transmission rates per million population per day for over 31 days last August.

The journal cited the “medical populism” as part of the main factors for the failure in pandemic control.

This leadership style was observed from President Rodrigo Duterte, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and US President Donald Trump.

United States and Brazil are among the countries with the highest infections in the world with 6,896,274 and 4,591,604 cases recorded as of September 23, respectively.

Meanwhile, medical populism is defined as “simplifying the pandemic by downplaying its impacts or touting easy solutions or treatments, spectacularizing their responses to crisis, forging divisions between the ‘people’ and dangerous ‘others’, and making medical knowledge claims to support the above.”

Here are the top ten countries that managed to control the virus transmissions among their citizens:

Screenshot by Interaksyon from the Lancet COVID-19 Commission Statement

Here’s data for the Philippines’ number of new cases per day:

Screenshot by Interaksyon from the Lancet COVID-19 Commission Statement

What gov’t said

In a statement on Wednesday, September 23, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque argued that Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases‘ (IATF-EID) response to the health crisis is guided by “science and hard data.”

“The President, together with the members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), has met the challenges of COVID-19 head-on, with science and hard data guiding the Chief Executive’s decisions and actions, contrary to the ‘medical populism’ leadership style issue raised by some quarters,” Roque said.

He mentioned ramping up the country’s testing capacity and contact tracing efforts, and scaling up the health facilities for COVID-19 cases as among the measures officials employed to curb the spread of the disease.

“The national government’s approach is whole-of-government and whole-of-society, where every sector from public health to economics has been consulted, to ensure that the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is addressed in our National Action Plan,” Roque said.

The Palace spokesman previously gave an 85% passing grade to the Duterte administration’s response to the health crisis and also claimed the Philippines’ testing capabilities are the “best” in Asia despite the delays and perceived failures of the government during the past tough lockdowns.

READ: An 85% COVID-19 response score? Philippines quarantine stretches 6 months

In an online forum on the same day, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire shrugged the low ranking off and said that the health department will just keep doing their work.

In terms of the “medical populism” view, Vergeire argued that what the health agency is working together through a “whole-of-nation” and “whole-of-society” approach.

“Kami po ay sama samang nagtatrabaho, we are doing a whole-of-nation, whole-of-society approach for this response that we have for COVID-19. Kung ano man po ang magiging komento, tayo po ay patuloy pa rin na magtatrabaho para labanan itong sakit na ito at alagaan ang buong populasyon,” she said.

What the public thinks of the COVID-19 suppression rank

The public, on the other hand, expressed disappointment over the low ranking on virus suppression, but also said there’s not much surprise on this. They cited the recent subjects of dissent such as budget allocations, misplaced priorities and Duterte’s advisers or “czars” against COVID-19.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

A popular parody page shared a witty caricature that depicted government officials’ continued touting of their COVID-19 measures despite the surge of infections each day.

Reddit users, meanwhile, noted that majority of the countries in the top ten are the country’s neighbors that did not wait for the vaccine to take action.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

The Duterte administration has been criticized for its delayed travel ban, military-based instead of medical-based solutions, misplaced priorities and other gaps that contributed to the persisting rise of  COVID-19 cases in the country.

This was reiterated by online users who slammed the recent dismal ranking on COVID-19 suppression.

They reminded the government of the time it imposed military solutions such as letting retired military officials help in leading the country’s efforts to combat COVID-19.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu was earlier appointed to serve as the response chief to address former COVID-19 hotpot Cebu City’s cases.

The government was also criticized deploying Special Action Forces and conducting aerial inspection in Cebu City when COVID-19 cases surged there.

READ: ‘Virus is invisible’: Cebu City aerial survey triggers concerns on COVID-19 response

Others also brought up Duterte’s suggestions to disinfect facemask with gasoline and also spraying pesticide over Manila to exterminate COVID-19, which are against scientific solutions.

RELATED: From slapping ‘veerus’ to spraying pesticide: How Duterte’s remarks against COVID-19 have evolved

In May, the World Health Organization also called out the Philippine government for the apparent slow contact tracing efforts that hampered the country’s progress in controlling the spread of COVID-19. —With Rosette Adel