THE key to containing the spread of the novel coronavirus is the strict observance of quarantine procedures set by the government, similar to how the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) was able to successfully maintain a record of zero COVID-19 infection even as big swaths of the country remain under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).
SBMA chairperson and administrator Wilma Eisma, during the “Laging Handa” briefing on Monday, attributed their clean bill of health to strict compliance with the guidelines set down by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
“This is now Day 72 of the lockdown. Not one case has been found right here in the Subic Bay Freeport. I am very happy to note that our tough stand reflects our results – zero cases. The restrictions worked,” Eisma said.
On May 23, the SBMA conducted rapid tests on 910 front liners/employees. All yielded negative results. This was followed by another mass testing by an SBMA locator on its own employees numbering 1,316 all of whom are staying inside the freeport. Again, the results showed zero case of CPVID 19 among them.
Eisma, however, admitted she would prefer an extended enhanced community quarantine inside Subic Bay so her office can put up adequate preparations for any eventuality once businesses started reopening.
“I am trying to buy time. Right now, we only have a Level 1 private hospital… that is not even allowed to handle COVID patients. Can you imagine the lack of capacity to do that?” she lamented.
To address the need, SBMA secured an exemption from the Department of Health which approved the upgrade and allowed the hospital to set aside eight ICU beds and 13 private rooms.
Eisma said she has also ordered the construction of an isolation or quarantine facility with 80 beds.
“I have since partnered with the Philippine Red Cross for a molecular laboratory for PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing right here in Subic. I’m hoping that by the time that we go to GCQ (general community quarantine), I will have these facilities ready just in case,” she explained.
The SBMA chief admits several companies have complained and are calling for the relaxing of quarantine procedures so they can resume operations.
“To be candid, our businessmen, the locators are already hurting. But if we act with haste we could end up with a bigger problem – the public health system might get overwhelmed if we have a massive public health fallout. I hope they understand my insistence that the SBMA must first have the capacity to handle COVID cases before we move to GCQ (general community quarantine),” she added.
The possible easing of quarantine restrictions on June 1 in certain areas is a sound move for the economy to recover, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said.
“Considering that the economy is reeling from a prolonged lockdown which directly affects not only individuals and family income but the country’s revenue collections as well, thus draining the coffers like an open faucet, it is wise for our policy makers to ease up the restrictions currently being imposed,” Lacson said in a statement.
Lacson, however, said people must be disciplined enough to practice health protocols once community restrictions are relaxed to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
He said the government must also gather data from other credible sources on the real situation of the COVID-19 and don’t just rely on the data provided by the DOH.
“Having said that, I hope finer details of the decision to ease the quarantine restrictions would be based on sound data and not just that of the Department of Health, whose limitations in handling data may potentially lead to wrong decisions. After all, we all do want to stay alive even during a lockdown,” he added.
Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said: “We will have to open the economy in a smart manner. Little by little, step by step.”
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the IATF must base its decision to ease quarantine restrictions by June 1 on “science-based” factors.
“The number of cases may not be doubling but it is still increasing. It just breached 14,000 yesterday (Sunday) and another 6,000 who tested positive remain to be validated. They may be silent carriers who unknowingly spread the virus. Where are they? The confidence of our people on the handling of COVID-19 has eroded because of the lapses of the DOH, primarily by Sec. (Francisco) Duque, and the violations committed by the implementors of the lockdown,” Drilon said.
The senators’ statements were made after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the improving condition in COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila is likely to convince President Duterte to downgrade the metropolis’ general community quarantine status from the present modified enhanced community quarantine.
Lorenzana said Metro Manila may transition to GCQ on June 1 once the MECQ lapses on May 31. Aside from Metro Manila, other cities and provinces under MECQ are Laguna, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Pampanga, and Angeles City. The cities of Mandaue and Cebu are under ECQ.
Under GCQ, more essential establishments will be allowed to resume operations, which means that more workers will be allowed to go to work. Public transport will be allowed to partially resume operations under a GCQ setting.
The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos said it will ask the IATF to allow the reopening of mosques for prayers particularly in areas where restrictions have already been relaxed.
NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan said that despite initial resistance to the closing of mosques and public congregations for prayers, Filipino Muslims have been cooperative in the government’s efforts to stop the spread of the infectious coronavirus through physical distancing.
“There were protests from our Muslim sector because you know, we Muslims pray five times a day. And during Ramadan, we have two additional long night prayers. Alhamdulillah, we were able to appease their apprehensions and anxieties. I’m happy to inform our fellowmen that this paid off because so far, we know of only around 10 fatalities for COVID 19 among Muslim Filipinos,” he said.
Pangarungan said the mosques stayed closed throughout Ramadan even as he admitted that it was unusual to observe the holy month under the existing prohibition against religious mass gathering.
The NCMF said that most Muslim provinces and cities remain COVID-free. “The reported fatalities are only in Marawi City and Lanao Del Sur, I think there were three, and four or five in Cagayan de Oro City. Maybe there are only around 10 fatalities recorded,” he said.
He sees these numbers, coupled with the cooperation of the Muslim population, as sufficient basis for allowing the reopening of the mosques.
“I think with the low mortality rate in the Philippines among Muslims, we are inclined to recommend to allow the prayers inside the mosque after the lockdown. We have a meeting tomorrow in Malacañang, the IATF, and we are likely to recommend the re-opening of the mosque especially in those areas under GCQ,” he said.
Pangarungan said once the mosques are opened, physical distancing will still be observed in compliance with existing protocols. – With Raymond Africa