President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday his administration contained the spread COVID-19 in a "very much earlier span of time", after a new international ranking showed that the Philippines kept infections low despite easing restrictions.
The outgoing leader made the statement after it was reported to him that most areas of the Philippines remain under COVID-19 Alert Level 1 where all businesses can operate at 100% capacity.
"If I were to judge myself, the one single thing that my government did was to contain COVID-19 in a very much earlier span of time," he said in a late-night public address.
The Philippines has improved its ranking in the Nikkei Asia COVID-19 Recovery Index, climbing to the 33rd spot from last place among 121 countries last year.
Duterte, who had said that he wanted to slap the coronavirus before the pandemic was declared in March 2020, said the economy is improving and thanked health professionals for their service, acknowledging that they are already "bone-weary".
"I know that you are bone- weary. Alam ko na pagod na kayo sa kakatrabaho ninyo. But you must remember that it is our country, our only country, and you have to stretch your effort," he said.
The President appealed to medical professionals to continue the country's COVID-19 vaccination drive as new virus variants threaten the Philippines' economic gains.
"You have to do some more for our country. Iyong hinahanap natin 'yung itong mga vulnerable kagaya nung may edad na na hindi nakakalabas at hindi nai-injection-an. Iyon sana, if we can manage to find them or iyong mga anak nila," he said.
Duterte's handling of the pandemic was heavily criticized for his appointment of retired military generals to lead the government's response.
He also made remarks about the pandemic that spurred controversy such as urging people to use gaas or kerosene as a replacement for disinfectants should they run out of alcohol.