VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Roque repeats false claim that PH was ‘first’ to impose COVID lockdown in Southeast Asia

Taking off from erroneous assertions of President Rodrigo Duterte, Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque has claimed that the Philippines was the “first ever” country to declare a lockdown in the region in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).


In his press briefing on May 18, Roque was asked what the administration is doing in view of the observation by an infectious disease and clinical pharmacology expert that the country has the “highest fatality rate yet lowest recovery rate for COVID-19 in Southeast Asia after 60 days of lockdown.”

The spokesman said:

“Although mababa siguro iyong recovery rate natin in relation to other countries at mataas iyong death rates natin, eh still, kung hindi po tayo nag-lockout, kung hindi tayo ang pinaka-unang-unang bansa dito sa ating rehiyon na nag-lockout, eh siguro mas marami pang nagkasakit at mas marami pang namatay.

(Although our country’s recovery rate may be low compared to other countries and our death rates are high, still, if we did not impose a lockout, if we were not the first country in our region to lockout, we would have more ill people and many more will be dead.)”

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, May 18, 2020, watch from 26:35 to 26:51


Contrary to Roque’s pronouncement, Vietnam was the first country in Southeast Asia to declare a lockdown. In Asia, at least three other countries aside from Vietnam — China, Saudi Arabia, and Mongolia — imposed lockdown and quarantine measures ahead of the Philippines.

As early as January 23, a day after two COVID-19 patients were admitted in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam already suspended flights to and from Wuhan, China, where the COVID-19 outbreak started.

Vietnam’s flight suspensions were later expanded to the whole of China in the first week of February, and inbound international flights by March.

On April 23, Vietnam eased its quarantine restrictions without a single coronavirus death reported and no new confirmed cases for three weeks.

The Philippines, on the other hand, imposed travel restrictions for Hubei province (where Wuhan is located) on Jan. 31, over a week after Vietnam, following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the outbreak as a public health emergency of international concern. (See Timeline: PH gov’t initial response to COVID-19)

This came a few days after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III turned down initial calls from lawmakers to ban foreigners coming from China from entering the Philippines.

On Feb. 2, Duterte expanded the travel ban to include those coming directly from China and its special administrative regions, as well as persons with travel history to these areas for the past 14 days. By then, the country already had two confirmed COVID-19 cases, one of whom became the first fatality outside China.

The report by doctor Benjamin Co cited in Roque’s press briefing lists the Philippines with a case fatality rate of 6.64 percent compared with the 2.34 percent average of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Region.

A month ago, both the Department of Health and WHO attributed the high case fatality rate for COVID-19 in the Philippines to the latter’s testing strategy of prioritizing high-risk individuals more likely to die than patients with mild symptoms. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Five things you should know about the COVID-19 mass testing)

Duterte had made the same false claim as Roque at least twice before, saying the Philippines was “the first in Asia” to declare a lockdown, as officials then denied allegations that the government failed to implement strict measures to contain the outbreak in the country. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte repeats false claim that PH was ‘first’ to impose COVID lockdown in Asia)

In an April 20 briefing, Roque claimed that the Philippines was the first to declare an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Asia. In a presser a week prior, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said had the president not declared an ECQ when he did, “it would have been much worse for the Philippines.”



Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, May 18, 2020

PTV Youtube, WATCH: PALACE VIRTUAL PRESSER With Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, May 18, 2020

Vietnam lockdown

China lockdown

Saudi Arabia lockdown

Mongolia lockdown

Bangkok Post, Vietnam to ease nationwide coronavirus lockdown, April 22, 2020

The Japan Times, After mass testing, Vietnam says coronavirus outbreak contained, May 1, 2020

Vietnam Express International, All Vietnam-Wuhan flights cancelled after pneumonia virus outbreak, Jan. 24, 2020

Xinhua News Agency, Vietnam confirms first 2 novel coronavirus cases, Jan. 23, 2020

Vietnam Express International, PM orders suspension of all international flights in Covid-19 fight, March 21, 2020

Reuters, Vietnam to suspend all inbound flights to contain coronavirus – govt statement, March 21, 2020

Bangkok Post, Vietnam to bar all inbound flights, March 21, 2020

The Independent, Coronavirus: Vietnam starts to lift lockdown measures after no deaths reported, April 23, 2020

The Telegraph, Vietnam lifts lockdown: How a country of 95m bordering China recorded zero coronavirus deaths, April 23, 2020

Los Angeles Times, Without a single COVID-19 death, Vietnam starts easing its coronavirus lockdown, April 23, 2020

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam:Online Newspaper of the Government, No new COVID-19 case reported over last 4.5 days, more patients recover, April 4, 2020

CNN Philippines, Duterte orders travel ban from China province amid coronavirus scare, Jan. 31, 2020

Business Mirror, Duterte orders travel ban on Chinese nationals from Hubei province, nCoV’s epicenter, Jan. 31, 2020, Duterte orders travel ban from Hubei, Jan. 31, 2020

Rappler Youtube, Even with coronavirus scare, no mainland Chinese travel ban for now – Duque, Jan. 29, 2020

Laging Handa PH, February COVID-19 timeline

Department of Health, DOH reveals more negative 2019-nCoV cases; confirms first nCoV are death in PH, Feb. 2, 2020

ANCX, The Philippines now has the highest COVID-19 fatality rate and lowest recovery rate in ASEAN, May 16, 2020

Department of Health Facebook, DOH Presscon, April 6, 2020

World Health Organization Youtube, Virtual press conference on COVID-19 in the Region, March 31, 2020

RTVMalacanang Youtube, PRRD’s Meeting with the IATF-EID and Talk to the Nation on COVID-19, April 8, 2020

RTVMalacanang Youtube, Talk to the People on COVID-19, April 16, 2020

GMA News Youtube, LIVESTREAM: Palace briefing with presidential spokesman Harry Roque, April 20, 2020

Presidential Communications Facebook, IATF Briefing, April 13, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)