Former COVID-19 task force adviser to Roque: 'He's not in touch with reality'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 1) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque may have celebrated too early. The country may have actually reached the projected 40,000 COVID-19 cases when June ended, the government's former task force adviser said Wednesday.

"He's not in touch with reality — the Filipino people will come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them," Leachon said in a text message to CNN Philippines.

"The Palace communication plan has to change. People are dying and losing hope," he added.

This comes a day after Roque congratulated the public for supposedly disproving the projection of the University of the Philippines OCTA Research Team that COVID-19 cases will have reached 40,000 by June 30.

READ: 'Congratulations, Philippines': Roque says the country beat UP's COVID-19 forecast

Roque was referring to the 36,438 COVID-19 cases last recorded by the Department of Health when he held the briefing. But during that period, there were a total of 46,272 positive tests already reported by the agency.

Roque also insisted that the country is still "winning" the COVID-19 battle despite 1,000 cases still to be validated by the government, citing testing czar Vince Dizon.

But Roque's jovial approach did not sit well with some critics, who claim that the government should focus on beating the virus, instead of projections by experts.

On Wednesday, Roque maintained that his congratulatory remark was meant to celebrate the "small victory" of missing UP's forecast for the first time.

READ: Roque defends ‘Congratulations, Philippines’ remark amid backlash: I’ll keep doing it to encourage people

"They have been perfectly accurate in their forecasting of how many cases we would have at the end of the month," he told CNN Philippines' The Source. "As far as I know, this is the first time we missed it— not by much— but we still missed it."

But Leachon maintained that the numbers are larger than what Roque has been claiming, with more samples that were not yet processed by laboratories. No less than the Department of Health noted in its statistics that there were 3,068 testing backlogs as of Sunday. This even rose to 3,521 as of Tuesday.

"I don’t know where he (Roque) gets the information on the backlogs, but definitely it’s not 1000," Leachon said. "You can just look at the number of testing facilities that did not submit reports the past days and you can tell that there are likely more cases that are still pending."

As of Tuesday, the Philippines has logged 37,513 COVID-19 cases. Leachon said this means the number of unique cases is "somewhere between 37,000 to 46,000 as of June 30."

For the former task force adviser, while this figure includes duplicates and unvalidated results, this is not a reason to be complacent.

"Backlogs are signs of ineptitude and inefficient work regardless of the number. We can't make people listen with lives lost, progressive poverty, high unemployment rate and mental health issues," Leachon said.

He added: "Stonewalling of information does not help the people. People won’t make needed sacrifices, instead they will cling to the status quo."

The UP research team projected that come July 31, infections may further surge to at least 60,000. Cases in Metro Manila may also top 27,000 and Cebu province 15,000 by then.