Duterte assures transparency in novel coronavirus response

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 3) — President Rodrigo Duterte assured that the government "will never hide anything" about the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), following an "emergency meeting" with officials at the forefront of the battle against the new virus from China spreading worldwide.

"If it says you’re going to die tomorrow because of this [2019-]nCoV, it’s a contagion all over, we will tell you that. If it would cost you lives, we will not hide that," Duterte said in a press briefing Monday night after a two-hour closed door meeting with the body leading the government's response to the virus.

He added, "Everything is well in the country. There's nothing really to be extra-scared of that coronavirus thing."

Duterte added that the government is buying more face masks amid a shortage in medical supply stores due to a surge in demand over the coronavirus scare.

However, he did not give specifics on how many face masks the government has bought and who would be provided with them.

"We do not want to give you the expectations because that’s something which cannot be delivered almost all on time. And you know, sometimes when we announce it, it is taken differently in a different light," Duterte explained.

Duterte also said the government has not yet identified places where quarantine sites can be set up as there is no need for them at the moment.

However, he has directed the Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to prepare spaces in hospitals which can be used as quarantine sites. Duterte also floated the possibility of seizing buildings which will be used as quarantine sites and hospitals.

He added that the government is looking into using a drug rehabilitation facility located in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija as a quarantine site.

Duterte reiterated that the travel ban currently being enforced covers all foreign nationals who have traveled to China, Hong Kong and Macau. He added that there is no need yet for the ban to be expanded to include other countries which are also reporting cases of 2019-nCoV.

The President also appealed to stop xenophobia towards Chinese people, stressing that it is in "bad taste" to be pushing for all Chinese people in the Philippines to be sent back to their country.

'Not late'

The emergency meeting led by Duterte came four days after the Philippines confirmed its first 2019-nCoV case. The country has also recorded a death due to the virus, which is the first mortality outside of China.

Communications Secretary Martin Andanar defended the Duterte administration from accusations that the inter-agency meeting is long overdue.

"It's not late. Very timely ang desisyon ng gobyerno. We follow the recommendation of the World Health Organization, the Department of Health... Ang mga desisyon ng gobyerno ay very methodical," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: It's not late. The government's decision is very timely. The decisions of the government are very methodical.]

Andanar also urged Filipinos not to discriminate against the Chinese nationals in the country.

"There were several times when countries around us were there for us. So we should be also there for the Chinese people who are suffering (from) the coronavirus. There should be no room for discrimination," he said.

Health authorities in the Philippines are now looking at 80 patients who may have been infected with 2019-nCoV, including eight people who came in close contact with the Chinese couple who tested positive for the virus.

The 2019-nCoV outbreak has killed 362 people and infected more than 17,300 globally, CNN reported Monday.

The number of infected people has surpassed that of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, but is significantly less lethal. 2019-nCoV's mortality rate stands between two and three percent.

The World Health Organization said there is no community-wide spread of the deadly virus in the country.

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producer Lara Tan contributed to this report.