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Philippine President to be Tested for Coronavirus, Palace Cleaned

A newly developed SARS CoV-2 detection kit by University of the Philippines scientists is shown during a press conference in Quezon, Philippines, March 12, 2020.
A newly developed SARS CoV-2 detection kit by University of the Philippines scientists is shown during a press conference in Quezon, Philippines, March 12, 2020.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is being tested for the new coronavirus after meeting with Cabinet officials who were exposed to infected people and have now been self-quarantined, an official said Thursday.

Duterte has no symptoms of COVID-19 but wanted to make sure he is healthy and can continue to engage with the public, said Sen. Christopher Lawrence ``Bong'' Go, a former presidential aide who still accompanies Duterte to official functions.

“Considering that some Cabinet members we engage with regularly have been exposed to individuals who were tested positive for COVID-19 ... it is just prudent for us to take precautionary measures in compliance with the advice of our health officials,” Go said.

Go, who was elected to the Senate last year, told reporters he and Duterte planned to be tested but did not elaborate.

At least six Cabinet members, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, have said they were exposed separately to COVID-19 patients and decided to self-quarantine. Several mayors and senators have also gone on home quarantine after coming into contact with patients.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said some finance officials who had been with Dominguez later held a news conference at a presidential palace briefing room. The press area was later disinfected, along with a media working area and presidential conference halls.

“Some members of the Malacanang press corps who covered the economic briefing also deemed it best to undergo self-quarantine,” Andanar said, referring to journalists covering presidential palace events.

Duterte's elite presidential guards announced early this week that they will enforce a “no touch policy” for Duterte to protect him from the virus and screen politicians and dignitaries who get near him. But Duterte played down the restrictions and suggested that he was not intimidated by the disease.

“That protocol is foolish. I will shake hands,” Duterte said. “If God calls me now, I'll go. I'm done. I'm the president now, the highest post anybody could reach.”

Duterte was to lead an inter-agency task force on the outbreak on Thursday and then announce possible new steps to fight the disease.

Health officials have confirmed 52 cases of the virus, and two people, a Chinese and a Filipino, have died.

The illness causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people but can be severe in the elderly and people with other health problems.

Duterte, 74, who took time off from work due to illness several times last year, postponed a trip to Boracay island on Thursday due to concerns over the virus, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said. He had planned to travel to the beach resort to promote domestic tourism amid a slump in arrivals of foreign tourists because of the pandemic.

Concerns over the outbreak have been complicated by fears that a water shortage in the Manila metropolis could worsen as the scorching summer season sets in.

“How will we wash our hands if there's no water?” opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros asked.