Philippine President’s spokesman tests positive for COVID-19

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation address at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

The president’s spokesman, who also has been the country’s leading voice on dealing with the pandemic, has tested positive for the coronavirus amid alarm over an infection spike that has forced key cities to reimpose curfews and lockdowns.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque held a regular televised news conference Monday where he disclosed that he has been infected but showed no symptoms. He was last with President Rodrigo Duterte in a provincial trip four days ago but said he tested negative on the eve of the trip and did not endanger the 75-year-old leader.

Roque’s infection is noteworthy because he has been leading a high-profile campaign for the public to do everything to beat back the virus. Exactly a year after the Philippines imposed a lockdown, “COVID-19 caught up with me … I’m very much shocked and surprised that I suddenly tested positive,” said Roque, who defended the government anew from accusations that its handling of the pandemic was a dismal failure.

The Department of Health has been reporting a surge in infections for more than a week, adding to concerns over a sluggish start of a vaccination campaign that has faced supply problems and public reluctance. The Philippines has reported more than 626,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections, with 12,837 deaths, the second highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

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