The announcement of the first coronavirus death in the Philippines – the first outside China – came just as millions of Filipinos headed to church for mass in the predominantly Catholic nation.
There was anger. And more than a little anxiety.
The government officials who faced the cameras and delivered the news, looked exhausted as they tried to explain the situation to the public and fend off questions from journalists.
It was not just that someone had died, but the revelation that there were two cases when Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had announced last Thursday that there was just one.
“(The health department) is assuring the public that all measures needed to contain the spread of the virus is being strictly implemented and followed,” Duque said, adding that the hospital where the patient was taken had “implemented rigorous infection control protocols while caring for these patients.”
Four other people are awaiting the results from their tests, while 24 had tested negative as of late Sunday.
The Philippines is the first country outside China to record a coronavirus death, which has sent shockwaves through Metro Manila – a city with a population of 12.8 million – and raised questions about government transparency and its ability to deal with the infection.
At St Clement Catholic Church in a suburb of Manila, Father Lody Garcia spent portions of his homily on Sunday warning his 800 parishioners to take extra precautions to avoid the infection and observe proper hygiene.
He also warned people to avoid the usual handshakes when greeting fellow churchgoers.
“We should avoid holding hands while we sing the Lord’s Prayer,” Father Lody told his congregation.
Many of those at mass had chosen to wear face masks, but most still opted to go without. At least 86 percent of the country’s 102 million population are Catholics.
At the end of the service, a special prayer was offered to health workers at the front line of fighting the outbreak and the patients suffering from the virus.
The country’s organisation of bishops also issued a rare prayer, known as an Oratio Imperata, a special invocation made during times of calamity.
Scramble for masks
Duque said the 44-year-old man who died was the partner of the woman whose infection was announced last week. Both were admitted to the San Lazaro Hospital, the centre for infectious diseases in Manila on January 25.
The man, reportedly complained of a cough and sore throat, before developing fever and pneumonia. He also showed “signs of improvement”, before his condition deteriorated suddenly 24 hours before his death, the health secretary said.
The two had travelled to two other islands in the Philippines during the course of their trip from Wuhan, exposing themselves to an undetermined number of people in the country after arriving in the country from Wuhan through Hong Kong on January 21.