By Deighton Acuin and Archie Villaflores

PHOTO: Philippine Daily Inquirer

A year after the government first declared imposition of community quarantine, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque still believes that the response against coronavirus pandemic has been “excellent.”

In a media briefing, Roque reiterated his “excellent” remark, and the surge is just attributed to the presence of new coronavirus variants in the country.

"Umpisa po ng mga kaso natin we were doing a really good job, an excellent job...kailan lang po ito (surge), nangyari lang ng mga lumipas na araw," Roque said.

"Ayokong sabihin na nagpapabaya ang mga Pilipino pero meron po talagang kinalaman itong mga bagong variants na lumalabas," he added.

On Saturday, the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed a new variant called P.3 was detected in the country, and 98 of the cases have already been reported, following 13 more new cases.

The DOH also confirmed that the country’s first case of the P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil was found in the samples of an overseas Filipino worker who returned from Brazil and hails from Western Visayas.

In the same briefing, Roque said while recommendations of independent research groups like UP-OCTA Research are important, it takes “hours” for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to come up with crucial measures to further balancing of the economy.

He also claimed Filipinos who are getting hungry due to lack of income are now more dominating than those getting COVID-19.

In its latest forecast, OCTA warned that new cases nationwide may jump to 8,000 in a day by month-end if the highly transmissible virus is not contained and may even shoot up to around 17,000 to 18,000 by mid-April.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told CNN Philippines’ The Source the government should be more open to criticisms that can help in the country’s pandemic battle.

Aside from the P.1 and P.3 variants, also discovered in the recent samples are 59 more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, and 32 additional cases of the B.1.351 from South Africa. This brings the total number of UK variant cases to 177, while the country now has 90 cases of the South Africa variant. Both variants are believed to be more contagious.