Social distancing must be accepted as the “new normal” until a vaccine that can stop the coronavirus pandemic becomes available, President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday.
This developed as the Philippines logged 264 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 11,350.
The Department of Health said that of the new cases, 165 or 63 percent are from the National Capital Region, which will be under the modified enhanced community quarantine beginning May 16.
In a taped public address aired over state-run PTV-4, Duterte stressed the importance of flattening the curve or slowing down the rate of COVID-19 infections.
“Social distancing. This is our new life until we have a vaccine. Just follow the protocol, it’s really important,” Duterte said.
He was expected to announce the fate of the enhanced and general community quarantines but left it out of his speech.
The DOH said 74 cases or 28 percent of the new cases are from Central Visayas or Region 7 and 25 cases or 9 percent are from other regions.
The Health bulletin also recorded 107 new recovered patients or a total of 2,106 recoveries. Meanwhile, there were 25 new COVID-related deaths of a total of 751 fatalities.
The DOH also recorded 67 additional health workers with COVID-19, with one new fatality.
It was the first COVID-19 death of a health worker since over a week ago, bringing the total to 2,067 as of May 11, from 1,991 the day before.
Duterte made his statement even as Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman said that while the Philippines might not be “pandemic-proof,” it nonetheless could be “pandemic-capable.”
He said preparing for a long bout with COVID-19 should be done now by upgrading all government hospitals and other health-care facilities.
"All projections point to a rise in cases until the middle of the year, and experts say that a vaccine may be available after a year and a half,” said Hataman, who represents Basilan.
“And until a vaccine has been found against COVID-19, we should strengthen the health frontlines by increasing their capabilities to treat patients with the virus in the future.”
Duterte also reminded the public to wear face masks to avoid being accosted by the police.
“The police will tap your shoulder. You won’t be arrested, but it will be embarrassing if they tell you to step aside,” he said.
He also warned that the Philippines could not afford to have a second and third wave of COVID-19 infections.
“The easing of the restrictions doesn’t mean COVID no longer exists. We should do it slowly so we don’t trip. We cannot afford a second or third wave to happen,” he said.
Amid the reports of quarantine violations, Duterte said, the protocols laid out by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were for the people’s safety and protection.
Quarantine violators would not only put themselves in danger but others as well.
Presidential Peace Adviser and National Policy Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. emphasized the importance of balancing health and economy in deciding the fate of the enhanced community quarantine and general community quarantine.
“In the absence of a vaccine, all we can do is prevent and contain it and mitigate its impact,” Galvez said.
“The government, however, cannot endure the ECQ for an extended period of time as its resources are very limited. Hence it has to balance between health and economy.”
On Monday, the World Health Organization said there were seven to eight "top" candidates for a vaccine to combat COVID-19, and the work on them was being accelerated.
"We have good candidates now,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“The top ones are around seven to eight, but we have more than a hundred candidates.”