THIRTEEN cities and 24 provinces currently under relaxed quarantine levels are getting “special attention” from the National Task Force (NTF) against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) following an increase in active cases in the areas in the past weeks.
NTC chief implementer and concurrent vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., during the “Laging Handa” public briefing, said the areas under close monitoring are the cities of Baguio, Dagupan, Olongapo, and Lucena in Luzon; Bacolod, Cebu, Lapu-Lapu, and Mandaue in the Visayas; and Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Cotabato and Butuan in Mindanao.
The provinces include Benguet, Isabela, Pampanga, Zambales, Quezon, and Masbate in Luzon; and Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Northern Samar in the Visayas
Also included are the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Bukidnon, Camiguin, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao.
No specific details as to the number of active infections in the areas were made available.
As of December 2, the Department of Health has reported a total of 434,357 COVID-19 cases in the country.
On Tuesday, the independent OCTA Research Team warned that the country may see stricter lockdowns come January 2021 if community quarantine levels are prematurely eased by the government.
President Duterte on Monday extended the month-long general community quarantine classification of Metro Manila, the provinces of Batangas, Lanao del Sur and Davao del Norte; and the cities of Iloilo, Tacloban, Iligan, and Davao from December 1 to 31. The rest of the country is under modified GCQ.
The areas were identified in Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea’s memorandum dated December 1, which stated that the cities and provinces require special attention “by the local government unit, regional IATF (Inter-Agency task Force for the management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases) and National Task Force.”
Galvez said many of the areas with high active cases are urban centers, places with congregation of crowd and gatherings, or converging areas for economic activity.
He reminded the public that observance of minimum health protocols, such the wearing of face masks and shields, frequent washing of hands, and physical distancing is important, especially during the holiday season, to safeguard families and communities from contracting the coronavirus.
Medialdea directed government agencies, including the PNP, AFP and the Philippine Coast Guard; government owned and-controlled corporations, government financial institutions, and state universities and colleges to strictly implement health measures to curb the spread of the virus.
He said the 37 special areas must sustain health promotion and strict enforcement of minimum public health standards, especially in high-risk areas such as healthcare settings, wet markets, supermarkets, government offices, workplaces, and at home, among others.
He said localized community quarantine must also be implemented in priority or critical areas with high coronavirus transmission.
He added that the local health system capacity, especially for community isolation and critical care, including mechanical ventilators, and intensive care units, isolation and ward beds for COVID-19 cases must be improved.
The memorandum adds that returning citizens as well as patients suspected as probable cases must undergo immediate facility-based isolation while contact tracing efforts must be strengthened and ensured to collect complete and accurate data using the COVID-Kaya and the Department of Health (DOH) DataCollect systems.
PARADES, FESTIVITIES BANNED
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said parades and religious festivities will still not be allowed in Manila even if there is a drop in COVID-19 cases.
Two major religious festivities are celebrated in the city every January, namely the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9 and the Feast of Sto. Niño, a yearly tradition celebrated on the third Sunday of January which are usually celebrated with long processions attended by huge crowds.
Moreno said even the traditional “Pahalik” or the kissing of the image of the Black Nazarene will not be allowed.
The city government has previously announced the cancellation of the Translacion in January due to the pandemic.
Moreno said he has already discussed the matter with religious leaders where he impressed on them the danger of holding activities that draw crowds of people.
“Let’s be practical about our situation. There is still danger, so let’s accept fact, let’s accept science. There are still many ways to be closer to God,” Moreno said over radio DZBB.
Moreno said though the number of COVID-19 cases in Manila continue to decline, there is still a need to adhere to safety and health protocols, particularly the banning of mass gatherings.
Data from the city government shows that as of December 2, there are 399 active COVID cases while 22, 187 have already recovered from the novel coronavirus. The city also recorded a total death toll of 673, including 6 new fatalities.
Likewise, there are still 910 suspected COVID cases, including 74 new ones.
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Public Affairs Committee Executive Secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano said he does not see anything distasteful in the decision of the government to limit mass gatherings during the Christmas season, which is the most-awaited occasion in the country.
Secillano said they actually agree with the decision of the government as it is the sensible thing to do amid the pandemic.
“While coming together can help us cope with the adverse impacts of COVID-19, the logistical needs like travel and budget as well as the potential risk of transmitting the virus shouldn’t be undermined,” said Secillano.
“It’s the prudent thing to do in this time of pandemic,” he added.
Instead of physically getting together, the priest said they are one with the government in calling on the public to just take advantage of the advances in technology. “We can all make use of technology to keep us connected this Christmas,” said the priest.
He said families can get together once the pandemic is over.
“Reunions can be done anytime of the year when the threat of the virus is gone,” said Secillano.
The Philippines is known to have one of the longest Christmas seasons, which begins in September and is highlighted by numerous family reunions and get-togethers.
But due to the COVID-19 health crisis, the Philippine government has recently advised the public to just limit family gatherings and reunions during the holiday season to prevent the spread of the virus. – With Ashzel Hachero and Gerard Naval