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Duterte projects COVID-19 crisis may last up to two years

President Rodrigo Duterte said the crisis caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has spread around the world could linger for two years.

In a televised address aired early Thursday, Duterte warned of dire consequences given that there is no vaccine or cure yet for the deadly disease.

“Pagka hindi ito naayos, ang COVID, mapurnada talaga tayong lahat,” he said. “Sabihin ko sa inyo. Think of the COVID ganitong sitwasyon, tatakbo ito ng two years.”

Duterte made the statement as he asked landlords and lessors to temporarily stop collecting rent from their tenants as many Filipinos have lost their jobs or received lower incomes due to economic disruptions attributed to COVID-19.

First detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year, the virus has spread to more than 200 countries with infections nearing 1.5 million, including 86,000 deaths.

The Philippines already has 3,870 COVID-19 cases—the second highest in Southeast Asia after Malaysia—with 182 deaths and 96 recoveries, according to a tally by the Department of Health on Wednesday.

But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the Philippines' current infection rate was lower compared to other countries.

He said Duterte’s order to temporarily deny entry to travelers from China and its special administrative regions in February and the imposition of Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine in March have slowed transmission of the virus.

Duterte has since extended the Luzon-wide quarantine until April 30.

“In the meantime, we help each other as one nation. If you still want a quarrel, go ahead. I said, there will be a time for that kung mag-survive tayo,” he said.

“You can keep criticizing pero alam ng taumbayan, alam na ng Pilipino ano itong COVID at ano 'yung hakbang ng gobyerno.” 

Also in his briefing, Duterte said he would consider selling assets of the Philippine government if its funds for the fight against COVID-19 and for the assistance to affected Filipinos run out.

“Pag maubos talaga ang pera, ipabili ko lahat ng propiyedad ng gobyerno. Iyang Cultural Center, PICC, yung lupa diyan. Totoo,” Duterte said. “Kapag wala na akong makuha and we are about to sink, and really sink, I will sell all the assets of government tapos itulong ko sa tao,” 

Duterte said the funds earmarked for the government's response against COVID-19 was still being collected.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, for his part, said the government is eyeing a $5.6 loan from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to help shore up the economy amid the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he doubts whether the current crisis would get to the point that the Philippine government would sell its assets to fund the government recovery program.

“I do not think it will get to that point considering the serious ways we are undertaking to address the disease,” Sotto said in a message to GMA News Online.

“I believe the President is merely giving us the assurance that he will do whatever it takes to fund the health and recovery of the entire country,” he said. — RSJ, GMA News