Philippines President Duterte to be tested for coronavirus after ministers self-quarantine

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte is pictured at a press conference in Manila, March 9, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will have himself tested for the coronavirus on Thursday (March 12), after three of his Cabinet ministers and two senators said they had come in contact with persons who had been infected.

Senator Bong Go, who still acts as Mr Duterte's closest aide, did not say why Mr Duterte decided to have himself tested, or whether he would place himself under quarantine.

This comes as the health ministry confirmed that a 67-year-old woman had died at a hospital in the capital Manila, the first Filipino to die from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Hers was the second death recorded in the Philippines. A Chinese tourist who came to the Philippines died at a state-run hospital here in January, the first death recorded outside mainland China.

In separate statements, Senators Sherwin Gatchalian and Nancy Binay said they were having themselves quarantined after meeting with an expert witness during a committee hearing on education reforms on March 5. The witness was later found to have been infected by the coronavirus.

A Senate source said the 72-year-old man was an academic with ties to a large state-run university.

He was said to be the husband of the 67-year-old woman who died early on Wednesday.

Health officials said both had not been outside the Philippines recently.

The woman was admitted to a hospital on Feb 29. Her husband also developed symptoms and was brought to a hospital on March 6. Both tested positive on Wednesday.

"The exposure to the virus is real, and there's a high chance that someone out there is a carrier," said Ms Binay.

"This is a serious public health matter, and I enjoin everyone who came in contact with me in the past week to take the same precautions and observe all the basic hygienic processes," she said.

Following this discovery, Senate President Tito Sotto said he was placing the Senate under lockdown on Thursday, so that its premises could be cleaned and disinfected.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, meanwhile, said he was also having himself quarantined after he learnt that he shook hands with someone who later tested positive for the virus during a meeting of economic managers last week.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said he too had opted for self-quarantine after meeting on March 5 and 6 with a person who had contracted the virus.

Hours later, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Mr Duterte's de facto chief of staff, said he would also be staying home and having himself tested.

With three of his Cabinet ministers on quarantine, Mr Duterte has decided to scrap his planned trip on Thursday to the island resort of Boracay.

"In light of the recent developments and after careful review of the situation concerning the coronavirus disease in the country, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will not proceed to Boracay… , as earlier scheduled," the president's spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

Mr Duterte had wanted to go to Boracay to help boost tourism, which had taken a beating from the outbreak as travel restrictions dissuade tourists.

He had urged Filipinos to "travel with me".

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said he would also have himself quarantined following his trip to Britain.

"This is to assure you all I will still be in City Hall, but I will undergo tests," he said.

Earlier in the day, the Philippines reported that it had at least 49 confirmed cases of infections, with the spike in number happening in just the past five days.

There are close to 100 Filipinos who have also tested positive abroad, including six who are in Singapore.

A recent case involves a former top executive of Philippine conglomerate San Miguel, who is said to be "critically ill … and in induced coma" in a hospital in Paris.

He was on a trade mission in Paris and had also been in China and Russia.

San Miguel said in a statement that the executive "is no longer with the company".

"It is business as usual for us," it said.

On Monday, Mr Duterte declared a health emergency amid growing anxiety that the deadly coronavirus is already spreading undetected in the capital Manila and in nearby suburbs.

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