Philippine police arrested hundreds on the island of Luzon for breaking quarantine measures on Wednesday, meant to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus in the country.
Many have expressed outrage in the country as reports revealed that elites in the Philippines enjoy privileges such as prioritized access to scarce testing kits and a lack of enforcement of quarantine restrictions. The hundreds of arrests occurred, for example, as a Philippine senator entered a maternity ward with his pregnant wife after being told to quarantine; he was confirmed to be infected by the Chinese coronavirus the next day, jeopardizing the health of everyone in the maternity ward.
The Philippine government recently implemented a severe crackdown on people violating quarantine mandates. President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire island of Luzon, where Manila is located, on lockdown last week. Duterte has threatened criminal charges and jail time for citizens and local officials who defy the strict quarantine orders.
These threats of jail time became a reality this week when police arrested hundreds of quarantine violators in Cagayan Valley, a region of Luzon, many of whom were detained for breaking curfew. High-ranking politicians have struggled with the strict quarantine mandates as well, including those confirmed to be carrying the Chinese coronavirus.
According to new leaked reports, at least two dozen politicians, public officials, and their relatives were tested for the Chinese coronavirus despite showing no symptoms. The health department refutes these claims, insisting that any people tested by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) – which processes Chinese coronavirus tests – displayed symptoms.
Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque admitted that some VIPs did request special access to testing.
“There were direct requests made to the RITM by the VIP,” Duque said in an interview on Tuesday with CNN Philippines. However, Duque insisted that “some of them had really fit in the criteria for testing.”
Reports of VIP testing come amid a shortage of testing kits across the country, which the government has cited as the reason for limited access to testing. The government claims to allow testing only for individuals already exhibiting symptoms.
A list released last week by a whistle-blower in the health department’s RITM reportedly shows that the Supreme Court justice, police chiefs, and their wives were among the “VIPs” recently tested. Another whistleblower claimed some VIPs requested the testing be done in the comfort of their own homes, demanding RITM teams travel to VIP residences to perform the testing. VIPs reportedly received their test results in just 24 hours, while doctors and medical staff battling the Chinese coronavirus on the front line must wait days for their results.
In one notable case, cardiologist Israel Bactol died on March 21 from the Chinese coronavirus while awaiting his test result and subsequent treatment. According to two RITM staffers, Bactol’s test results were delayed for four days because at least 34 government officials “ordered” theirs to be released within a day.
At press time Thursday, the Philippines had 707 confirmed cases of Chinese coronavirus and 45 deaths.