MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has admitted being scared and worried about a possible surge of COVID-19 cases again due to the Omicron variant, as such problems would require huge money again while the government’s coffers have been depleted.
Duterte, during his late Tuesday night briefing, raised questions for Health Secretary Francisco Duque about the Omicron variant, which is said to be more transmissible than both the Alpha and the Delta variants that caused surges from March to April 2021 and August to September 2021, respectively.
The President said that funds are currently depleted because they have also allocated funds for Typhoon Odette, which ravaged through the northern portion of Mindanao, the southern part of Visayas, and central Palawan.
“Ang ano ko lang is, kung it would be as bad as the previous viruses already nandito? Medyo natatakot lang ako, you know, somehow, kinakabahan ako kasi let me be frank to the public, depleted na ‘yong pera talaga ng Pilipinas, even coping up with the growing expenses for the Typhoon victims,” Duterte said.
This was not the first time that Duterte said the budget was depleted: last Friday, the President said he was late to the briefing because
he talked with the finance cluster to discuss where to look for funds
as the country’s budget is depleted.
This view, however,
was countered by opposition critics
who pointed out that the government has made a lot of loans, while Senator Richard Gordon urged the President to look at the anomaly involving the
Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. which is accused of siphoning government funds for overpriced pandemic supplies.
Duterte said that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea reminded him as there are a few days left until 2021 ends — assuming the President signs into law the proposed 2022 budget within the next two weeks — the country would start operating on a new budget.
But Duterte is still wary that increased mobility during the holiday season might cause another surge in infections, especially since the Omicron variant has been detected in three travelers already.
“Pinag-ano namin, ni-walis nga kung ano pang matira, ubusin na lang and we might get more funds ‘pag patong ng — sabi ni Bingbong (Medialdea) — ‘pag patong ng 2022, we operate on the new budget,” the Chief Executive said.
“Ang problema lang, far and between the days that are coming our way, celebration and all, baka nga makalusot talaga ‘yang Omicron earlier than expected. It would require a huge expenditure again, to meet the challenges of the new variant,” he added.
Duque then relayed to Duterte that while there are insufficient data to make a conclusion about Omicron’s transmissibility and virulence, latest numbers indicate that it is more transmissible. In terms of virulence, the Department of Health (DOH) official said that more data is needed.
“Ang transmissibility mas mabilis po ito but no established reproduction number has been assigned to it, so they’re still awaiting for more data. And then in terms of virulence, hindi pa rin po conclusive ang data, Mr. President. Sinasabi nila hindi naman daw ito kasing-bangis, it’s not as virulent than as serious as Delta (variant),” he explained.
“But there are also some reports are saying it might be just as virulent as data. So we still need more time to gather more data and evidence. And so the third consideration vis a vis this Omicron variant is what they call the immune escape — para pong madali siyang makalusot doon sa protection that the vaccines provide,” he added.
On Monday, DOH confirmed that a returning Filipino who already tested negative got the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
This brings the current number to three
— all of which were inbound cases, including those who came from Japan and Nigeria.
Currently, the country has seen a continuous decrease in COVID-19 infections per day and in the active infection count. DOH said on Tuesday that active cases are only at 9,384, as only 168 new cases were recorded, while 372 patients recovered.
Still, Duterte said that it would only be a matter of time before the country registers a local transmission of the Omicron variant.
“Well everybody is saying Omicron will arrive in the Philippines sooner or later, we cannot really prevent it totally because we have to move. We have to move, and you know, people come in and out of our country, for the tourists and for the non-residents, but also our returning OFWs,” he said.
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