Authorities called on the government officials to serve as role models in observing minimum health protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic after presidential spokesperson Harry Roque was spotted in a mass gathering held in Cebu last Friday.
Former health secretary Paulyn Ubial said that they should serve as an example to the public since their actions send signals to everyone, being in high positions of authority.
“I hope our government officials will actually be the role model of really practicing the minimum health protocols—wearing masks, wearing face shields and physical distancing of one meter and more,” she said in an ANC interview Monday morning.
“Government, and especially the Department of Health, has to remind some officials about maintaining the health protocols and making sure that they show this as an example to the public. They are the role models that the public will follow so if they break the protocol, then it’s a signal to the public to also break the protocols,” Ubial added.
The former health official said that while the event attended by Roque was held in an open-air, there is still the possibility of spreading the virus if there are people who are not wearing their face masks properly and if there is less than one-meter distance among them.
“Even if you’re wearing masks, (if) you yourself are wearing a mask properly but the other persons are not, then you can spread the virus. In open-air, yes, the chances of virus’ survival when it’s open-air is lower but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen,” Ubial said in reference to the possibility of transmission.
“The science actually supports that there’s transmission of the virus if you are less than one meter apart,” she added.
Dr. Tony Leachon, health reform advocate and former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, also urged the officials to “walk the talk” when it comes to observing the health protocols.
“Everybody’s sacrificing—at home, in the workplace, and in the community. If you cannot prove it by your action, you do not mean it. We can’t give what we don’t have. As leaders—we need to Walk the Talk,” he tweeted in response to reports of Roque in a mass gathering.
Leachon also responded after the spokesperson defended himself against criticisms.
“Well, we can choose not to speak in the event if there are violations of physical distancing. Double standards are unfair. It’s like having a rule that applies to some people one way and another way to others. We will lose the moral ascendancy to lead in the long run,” he said.
In a Facebook post last Friday, Roque said he is the official guest of the opening of the Bantayan Island Airport which is eyed shorten the travel time from Cebu City to the island from one hour to 20 minutes.
The event was also attended by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, other national officials and former pageant candidates of the Miss Universe 2020.
Roque also participated in the tourism program by the Cebu provincial government “Suroy-Suroy” (strolling around) SMB Escapade which aims to promote Bantayan island as a tourism destination.
He went to Kota Park in the town of Madridejos at Bantayan where he was pictured speaking to the crowd that had gathered in the vicinity.
Pictures of the event gained traction on social media as Filipinos pointed out the lack of physical distancing which is required by the health department to mitigate the COVID-19 transmission.
Roque had reminded the public to observe the government’s minimum health protocols during the event, where he told them to practice wearing face masks and regular handwashing.
He was also aware that they were not practicing the required physical distance at that moment.
“Pero huwag niyo lang tatanggalin ang mga masks niyo, okay na ‘yan dahil open air naman tayo,” Roque told the crowd.
The DOH said that people must observe at least a one-meter distance in public, which is nearly equivalent to a motorcycle’s length, to curb the transmission of COVID-19 which is primarily spread through respiratory droplets.
Roque later on defended himself and said that he had no control over the large crowd that had gathered in place.
“The activity where I was seen speaking before a crowd was organized by the local government, which I had no control as a guest,” he said.
“I was later informed, that the local official/s mentioned in interview/s that they did not expect the huge turnout of people as well,” the Palace official, who also acts as the spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said.
Roque also said that he “observed physical distancing” and that he “did not shake hands.”
But a news report noted that in a now-deleted Facebook post uploaded by the official last Saturday, he was seen having a “selfie” with some locals.
“Halos kadikit niya ang ilang residente ng Bantayan Island habang nagse-selfie,” News5 reported.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said that a “fact-finding probe” will be done to “check if anyone has to answer” for the event.
“Nananawagan tayo sa lahat, including government officials, kung may activities kayo na hindi niyo kayang ipatupad ang health standards, particularly physical distancing, stop it. ‘Wag niyo nang ituloy ‘yan, kasi you cannot just say sorry kung hindi na-control,” he said.
Madridejos Mayor Salvador dela Fuente said that they had advised the public to practice physical distancing but authorities had lost control because of the latter’s “eagerness and enthusiasm.”
He has advised the locals to monitor themselves for symptoms following the incident, adding that there is a “possibility” someone could’ve been infected but was “asymptomatic” of the disease.
Meanwhile, National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez in an interview with ANC said the alleged health violations in the Cebu event will discussed during the meeting of the IATF-EID.
“There is a need to enforce social distancing at events but there are instances when we cannot dictate the situation,” Galvez was quoted by the ANC as saying.
Importance of physical distancing
The World Health Organization recommends the public to stay at least one meter away from each other to reduce the risk of potentially transmitting respiratory droplets that may contain the virus, which is produced while talking, coughing, shouting and singing.
It can also be transmitted via aerosols in enclosed, indoor settings with poor ventilation and those with recirculated air.
For maximum protection, DOH also encourages people to practice two to three meters of distance.
Leachon, who was reported to have quoted medical journal The Lancet, said that a one-meter distance can reduce the chance of infection by up to 86%, while a two-meter and three-meter distance can reduce infection by 93 percent and 96 percent, respectively.
Strictly practicing physical distancing measures is one of the means in mitigating the spread of the pathogen which has a high transmission rate.
Experts said that observing such a preventive measure is crucial for “flattening the curve” or significantly reducing the number of infections in a community so that the health care system wouldn’t be burdened.