Defending the government's policy to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that early intervention had played a crucial role in preventing at least 1.3 million to 3.5 million cases in the country.

While speaking to the nation during his annual address, Duterte stated that the imposition of one of the strictest lockdowns in the world helped keep the number of cases under check despite hurting the economy. The country has reported over 82,000 cases and nearly 2,000 deaths.

Talking about the measures impose, Duterte said, "To me, even if the numbers were much lower, it would still be and would have been worth the sacrifice we made.

Cases Increase After Relaxing Restrictions

The Philippines eased restrictions on June 1, but cases have since quadrupled and critics say the country was too slow in detecting infections due to weak testing, which Duterte acknowledged started slowly.

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Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte

"Life first before everything," he said, adding "we initially encountered difficulties ramping up our testing capacity." Duterte also reiterated that he would not allow schools to reopen for face-to-face classes until a vaccine was available and had earlier believed one could be ready as early as September.

Appeal to Xi Jinping

He said he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping four days ago to make the Philippines a top priority once Beijing had developed its own vaccine for COVID-19. "I made a plea to President Xi if they have the vaccine can they allow us to be one of the first ... so that we can normalize as fast as possible," he said.

Duterte also promised no relent in a bloody war on drugs that has alarmed the international community and said the Philippines "will not dodge our obligation" to human rights, adding that included protecting people from drugs and corruption.

"Do not do it in my country because I will really kill you that is a commitment," he said, warning drug dealers. He also threatened the closure or government expropriation of telecoms firms for what he called "lousy" services, and gave providers until December to improve.

(With inputs from agencies)