Philippines’ Duterte cancels address as COVID-19 spreads among staff

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled a weekly televised address and meeting with his coronavirus task force on Wednesday (Apr 7), following dozens of COVID-19 cases among his staff and security detail, government officials said.

The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

The country has seen new daily cases surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on Apr 2, most of those in the congested capital, Manila.

“The physical safety of the president remains our utmost concern,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

There were 45 active COVID-19 cases in the Presidential Security Group (PSG), Duterte’s guard unit, most of which were personnel manning the gates of the presidential palace, PSG chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante told state television.

READ: Philippines extends coronavirus curbs in capital, nearby provinces

“We will minimise all possible exposures that may jeopardise our president’s safety,” he said.

Before the pandemic, Duterte, 76, maintained a busy schedule, at times attending multiple public events and delivering several speeches each day, often past midnight.

His public activities have since been replaced by a weekly night-time address.

Duterte’s known ailments include back problems, migraines due to nerve damage and Barrett’s oesophagus, which affects his throat. He also suffers from Buerger’s disease which can cause blockages in the blood vessels.

Duterte has yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus and is awaiting his doctor’s advice having expressed a preference for Sinopharm’s vaccine, which has yet to be approved locally.

Christopher Go, a sitting senator and Duterte’s closest aide, reassured the public the president was in good health.

READ: Ex-Philippine President Joseph Estrada on ventilator with COVID-19

“Nothing to worry about,” Go said. “In fact, we are together and he continues working.”

With more than 819,000 COVID-19 cases and over 14,000 deaths, the Philippines has since last year been under tight and lengthy restrictions that have decimated its economy, which suffered one of Asia’s deepest contractions last year.

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