Health indicators crucial in lockdown extension — DOH

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    Rizal Coliseum was converted into a COVID-19 quarantine processing facility. (Photo by Sec. Mark Villar)

    AMID talks about a quarantine extension, the Department of Health on Monday said the trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases as well the capacity of the country to handle these cases are among the most important factors to consider in deciding whether to lift or extend the month-long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

    “We need to take a look at the capacity of our healthcare system in combating COVID-19, including laboratory capacity, hospital capacity to manage COVID-19, and community quarantine,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a press briefing.

    In addition, she said, the social, economic, and security factors of the ECQ should be looked into.

    “All of these factors have to be studied and balanced so that our recommendations will be appropriate,” she also said.

    The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) was still in a meeting on Monday evening, discussing among others whether to fully or partially lift or extend the Luzon-wide ECQ, which will end 11:59 p.m. of April 12.

    Presidential peace adviser and chief implementor of the National Action Plan Carlito Galvez stressed the importance of extending the ECQ in Luzon and in some parts of the Visayas and Mindanao.

    Galvez cited the case of Singapore which he said had a relapse of COVID-19 cases after briefly imposing travel restrictions. The second wave of infections has prompted Singapore to impose a month-long lockdown starting today, Tuesday.

    “On our way forward, let us wait for the decision of the President kung mali-lift o hindi ‘yung tinatawag nating ECQ. Nakikita natin na ‘yung Singapore po ay parang nagkaroon ng relapse at nakita natin bukas magkakaroon na sila ng lockdown. (On our way forward, let us wait for the decision of the President if the ECQ will be lifted or not. We saw Singapore had an apparent relapse and tomorrow, they are going on a lockdown),” said Galvez.

    Galvez asked the public to be prepared for the announcement of the President, stressing that that the government is bent on ending the spread of the virus and save lives in the process. “We want this crisis to be over as soon as possible time,” he added.

    Galvez said that while the ECQ had been instrumental in the reduction of COVID-19 cases, “the decline is not enough for us to say we are already safe.”

     PHASED LIFTING

     Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez supports a two-week extension of the ECQ, after which he said government can proceed to a phased lifting of the lockdown.

    This is a reversal from his earlier position supporting the business community’s proposal to start the gradual lifting after the ECQ ends on Sunday.

    Lopez told reporters via Viber that he supports the extension as “I don’t want to see a relapse and lose the gains of ECQ.” “We need to see the flattening of the curve, and more health and isolation facilities,” he said.

    After the extension, Lopez said gradual lifting of the ECQ can be done but only for other essential and job generating sectors.

    “If we extend, that means same conditions will be observed. We should allow the currently permitted food and essential sectors as well as their supply chain, from inputs to distribution,” Lopez added.

     ‘PRUDENT APPROACH’

     A study conducted by the University of the Philippines indicated that a gradual lifting of the ECQ will be a “prudent approach” to buy more time for the health system to prepare and brace itself for the flow of incoming cases.

    The study titled “Surviving the lockdown and beyond” was published April 5. It was done by Toby Monsod, Orville Jose Solon, Ma. Socorro Gochoco-Bautista, Emmanuel de Dios, Joseph Capuno, Ma. Joy Abrenica, Cielo Magno and Renato Reside Jr.

    The study laid down three scenarios that will happen in the coming weeks.

    First scenario is when lockdown restrictions are lifted gradually in lockstep with the preparedness of the health system to face the flow of cases that will continue even after the ECQ.

    “Conversely, immediately and adequately provision the health system so that lockdown restrictions can be lifted as quickly as possible. There is too much that is not understood about how and why the virus is behaving as it is locally,” the study said.

    “It is imperative for the health system to be equipped with the necessary national and local infrastructure and staff. This in turn requires funds from national government sources, including PhilHealth, to flow immediately to public and private health providers. To this end, there must be a shift away from pre-pandemic bureaucratic procurement regulations to allow for exigencies as needed under emergencies of this magnitude,” it added.

    The authors also said that there is a need to do all that is necessary to extend supply chains for food and basic goods right up to the doorsteps of households now quarantined, and to do this in the most reliable and orderly manner possible.

    “This will require a more efficient sharing of authority and accountability between relevant national agencies and local government units, in which the latter take the lead in targeting and distribution, and the former take the lead in managing supply chains across jurisdictions and bulk procurement. It may also mean allocating to and targeting barangays, or clusters of households, rather than individual households,” the study said.

    Third, the study said it is necessary to anchor any government spending program on actions to address the significant weaknesses in the country’s public health system, its fabrication and logistics capabilities, its research and development systems, its financial system, its social safety nets, and the capacity for foresight and implementation among its public agencies, including an understanding of the moving parts of supply chains and the micros, small, and medium enterprises that populate these chains, “weaknesses laid bare by the crisis.”

    “Ignoring these weaknesses and assuming that the economy can simply start where it left off would be as foolish as rebuilding a fallen structure in the same hazardous location, using the same plans and materials, and thinking that the structure will not collapse the next time around,” it added.

     PREPARED

     The PNP said its personnel are prepared to continue implementing the ECQ if it is extended by President Duterte.

    Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said: “The PNP will continue with the unrelenting implementation of the ECQ (if it will be extended).”

    “At the same time, we will also enhance our deployment to provide security to DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development),” Banac also said. The DSWD supervises the distribution of financial and food assistance to low-income workers and vulnerable sectors affected by crisis.

    Banac also assured the unhampered movement of truck delivering goods and other essential products if the ECQ is extended.

    “Their movement should be unimpeded to sustain the supplies for the next possible two weeks (of extension). Ensuring enough supply of food and basic goods is a big contribution, it will convince the people to remain in their homes,” he said.

    “Our backend personnel are ready to take over the functions from the frontlines. All those sick are being pulled out and replaced,” Banac also said. –– With Irma Isip, Angela Celis and Victor Reyes