Coronavirus: Philippines in confusion during ‘soft lockdown’ as misinformation spreads

Coronavirus: Philippines in confusion during ‘soft lockdown’ as misinformation spreads
Coronavirus: Philippines in confusion during ‘soft lockdown’ as misinformation spreads

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Disinformation appeared to reach the highest echelons of government in the Philippines on Monday as a presidential spokesperson lauded an unfounded cure of bananas for coronavirus.

A presidential address from Rodrigo Duterte to detail guidelines for and implications of an enhanced quarantine and potential total lockdown of the Philippine capital has not yet occurred despite being scheduled for 5pm.

While Filipinos waited for the address on Monday, Mr Duterte's palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo claimed with no evidence, that eating bananas will help kill the coronavirus, citing unnamed articles he “read on the internet.”

Mr Panelo may have been referring to one of the hoax clips that has been circulating social media this week with these same claims.

"I read a few things about how to destroy or contain the virus. You know, even without me knowing it, I've been fond of bananas," he said.

"I saw on the internet that bananas are a good way to fight [viruses]. So here I am, eating bananas every day,” he continued.

Mr Panelo went on to say it was his “habit” to gargle salt water.

“Whenever I feel a bit of a cold, I do it. Health Secretary Francisco Duque said that's OK. Even gargling with Listerine,” he added.

Neither the World Health Organisation or the country’s Department of Health have issued official recommendations about eating bananas or gargling with salt water to combat the coronavirus.

Dr Edsel Salvana, an infectious disease specialist and member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 in the Philippines urged the Philippine public to seek verifiable information through The Department of Health and World Health Organisation websites.

Mr Panelo’s comments came as crowds of commuters were left stranded or late for work on the first Monday of a 30-day community quarantine or “soft lockdown” that will limit movement in the Philippines’ capital.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the community lockdown last week, in which domestic air, land, and sea access to the 17 districts of Metro Manila would be suspended from March 15 to April 14. Checkpoints manned by the police and military would serve as border patrols, while school and university classes would be suspended for one month and a curfew from 8pm to 5am would be enforced.

"We don't want to use that [word] because you are afraid of a lockdown — but it's a lockdown," said Duterte in his televised address on March 12.

Checkpoints established to monitor motorists’ temperatures backed up morning traffic, manned by police and military personnel who perform temperature checks and sparking chaotic scenes and highlighting the sheer volume of people crowded together as potentially counterproductive to slowing down the spread of the virus.

Metro Manila, a region of the Philippines containing the capital Manila, is home to 12 million people but many more workers commute to the city daily. Even before the outbreak, Metro Manila was considered one of the world’s most congested.

After two days of reported inefficiencies in implementing a community quarantine in Manila, "enhanced community quarantine" over the whole island of Luzon was announced by the Palace in a Viber (messaging service similar to WhatsApp) message on Monday.

Mr Panelo disclosed earlier that Cabinet officials had already proposed a total lockdown for Metro Manila.

Enhanced community quarantine means all people will be subjected to strict home quarantine with no movement and no transportation except for the transport of basic services and necessities, Mr Panelo explained in his Monday afternoon address.

The heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures will also be implemented.

The Department of Health confirmed 29 new coronavirus cases in the Philippines yesterday, bringing the total number of cases in the Philippines to 140 and the total fatalities in the country to at least 12. The department has yet to release figures on those recovered.

Filipinos expressed dismay at Mr Panelo’s comments on curing the virus.

“This isn't funny any more. Reading articles on the internet without specifying where it came from is disturbing. We need reassurance and a sense of diligence on getting things done properly,” tweeted one woman.

Updated: March 16, 2020 05:25 PM

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