President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged Filipinos not to blame China nor discriminate against the Chinese amid the outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus from China’s Hubei Province.

Duterte told reporters the 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease would likely die a natural death like the SARS epidemic in 2002 to 2003.

2019-nCoV infections and deaths have surpassed levels seen during the SARS outbreak. According to the World Health Organization, there were 17,391 confirmed cases as of Feb. 3, 17,238 of which were in China. Outside China, 153 confirmed cases have been reported in 23 countries. A total of 362 deaths have been recorded.

“It happened in China on — at least the first, ‘yun lang. But that is not the fault of anybody. Not of the Chinese, not of the Filipinos, not of anyone,” Duterte said in a press conference after a meeting with health authorities.

“Stop this xenophobia thing,” he said.

On Tuesday, Duterte aide Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go said the government was on top of the situation, and lashed out at critics of the government’s response.

“Since day 1, the whole Duterte Administration has said that it has been on top of the situation and is doing everything it can to address the issue. The President, and even a key official from the World Health Organization, have commended the efforts of this government in responding to this worldwide health concern,” Go, head of the Senate Committee on Health, said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) representative in the Philippines, Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, lauded the government’s response to the outbreak, noting that a travel ban was announced after WHO’s declaration that the deadly virus has become a public health emergency.

Department of Health (DOH) chief Francisco Duque III said 80 patients were under investigation, 67 of them admitted and isolated. Ten have been discharged.

Health officials noted that President Duterte had approved the budget for the procurement of personnel protective equipment for around 5,000 workers.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the economic costs of the infection on the economy would most likely be centered on the tourism sector, but added it was “too early to estimate the economic impact of the novel coronavirus.”

Dominguez said the finance department’s projection at 6.5-7.5 percent economic growth for 2020 stays.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea told lawmakers President Duterte had expanded the travel ban to include travelers to and from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau amid the threat of the novel coronavirus.

President Duterte has also ordered the establishment of a repatriation and quarantine facility, he said. (