Duterte says gov't procuring face masks amid shortage due to coronavirus outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, February 3, said the government would procure face masks for Filipinos as stockpiles of surgical face masks were depleted amid fears over the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

Duterte made the announcement after holding a meeting with Cabinet members regarding the Philippine government's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"Is government doing something to buy more, to protect more? Yes we are doing it (procuring masks). We are not just sitting down here. We have resources coming," Duterte told reporters in a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday night.

Panic buying. After the Department of Health confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the Philippines on January 30, Filipinos raced to drugstores to purchase face masks out of fear of contracting the virus.

In areas such as Cebu City, suppliers were forced to ration masks while pharmacies implemented a "one box per person" policy to prevent hoarding. In Metro Manila, individuals likewise emptied pharmacies' and medical supply stores' shelves of masks, prompting the police to deploy personnel to manage crowds.

This came despite the World Health Organization saying that masks are not needed by healthy people with no respiratory symptoms.

Downplaying outbreak. Meanwhile, Duterte downplayed the spread of the novel coronavirus to the country, saying the public's "hysteria" over the virus was unwarranted.

"This coronavirus is scaring people all over. The response of the people from the initial reports of the coronavirus was almost hysterical when there was really no need for it, actually," Duterte said.

"Why do you have to be hysterical? Why don't you just go to the hospital and have yourself treated?" he added.

So far, the Department of Health has confirmed two cases of the novel coronavirus in the Philippines. On Monday, health officials said they were also monitoring 80 persons under investigation for the virus.

The Philippines recorded the first death due to the novel coronavirus outside China in a 44-year-old Chinese man who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan. The man was the country's second confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, and a companion of the first patient, a 38-year-old Chinese woman.

As of Monday, the virus has killed 362 people and infected over 17,000 people worldwide. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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