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Philippine president's spokesman tests positive for COVID-19

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque confirmed on Monday he had tested positive for COVID-19, but said he had not been in contact with the country’s leader since receiving his test results.

Roque said he regularly got himself tested before meeting with Duterte so Monday’s result “came as a shock”.

The last time he was with Duterte was on March 11, he said, adding he had tested negative the day before the meeting and kept his distance from the president.

He was asymptomatic and would continue working remotely in an isolation facility, Roque told a virtual media briefing.

News of Roque’s diagnosis comes as the Philippines has been seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, with close to 10,000 fresh infections added to the total tally over the weekend.

The rise in infections has sparked fears of a return to a complete lockdown, but Roque said that was unlikely, at least for this month, because the country’s hospital capacity remained below critical levels.

It was exactly a year ago when Duterte imposed one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns in the capital Manila and other provinces to curb the coronavirus spread.

He has gradually eased the restrictions to revive the economy, which suffered its worst contraction on record last year.

Duterte has said he would reopen the economy further once millions have been vaccinated against COVID-19, especially those living around big cities.

The Philippines, which aims to immunise 70 million of its 108 million people, has so far inoculated more than 193,000 since it started its vaccination drive on March 1, the Department of Health said.

It has so far received more than 1.1 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from China and via the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility.

Confirmed cases in the Philippines, which include those caused by new variants, have increased to more than 621,000 while confirmed deaths have reached more than 12,800.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies

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