COVID-19 fight has just begun

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    OVER THE weekend, President Duterte agreed to the recommendation of the Department of Health (DOH) to declare a State of Public Health Emergency following Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s report confirming the sixth COVID-19 case in the Philippines.

    Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said a copy of the Executive Order to this effect will be released today, Monday.

    The DOH raised the country’s COVID-19 alert system to Code Red, Sub-level 1, after the first case of local transmission was confirmed. This alert level issuance is a “preemptive call to ensure national and local government and public and private healthcare providers can prepare for a possible increase in suspected and confirmed cases of infection. The alert level likewise assures that all human and material resources must be made available for duty and deployment.”

    The Chief Executive’s declaration of a State of Public Health Emergency will also facilitate the sufficient and immediate access to funding, particularly for local government units, and ease processes on procurement, mandatory reporting, mandatory quarantine, and travel restrictions, among others.

    Secretary Panelo assured the public that the national government is “prepared for anything,” particularly for this coming public health emergency, but the situation on the ground seems to disprove his word. While the DOH still has funds being spent for the fight against the virus, these funds will soon be depleted, and we are faced with a Congress that is closed for the holidays, where the P2 billion supplementary budget bill for the DOH is still pending in the committee level. Like the ABS-CBN franchise bill, it will be a long way off before this becomes a law, and hard cash is available for the Department of Health to use in combating the virus.

    There have been warnings and pronouncements from a number of senators and the Vice President, Leonor Robredo, about the need for our health authorities to be forthright and prompt in reporting the status of the COVID-19 outbreak. We hope that these lawmakers and members of the opposition are sincere in their criticisms and are not just grandstanding and using the virus issue as a platform for media mileage.

    Meanwhile, the Department of Interior and Local Government is being proactive in directing the local government units of Metro Manila to immediately activate their novel coronavirus disease task force and for all barangays in the country to prepare their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) in the wake of the Code Red sublevel 1 alert raised by the DOH.

    DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said, “Local transmissions pose greater chances for the virus to spread and that’s the last thing we want to happen. Kaya naman inaatasan ko ang mga LGU ng NCR to activate their LCTF o Local COVID-19 Task Force to prevent the situation from escalating.” The LCTF shall direct the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office and Local City Health Office, upon receiving the referrals from the DOH-Emergency Operations Center, to coordinate directly with, and convey or transport, the symptomatic persons to the nearest DOH referral facility for COVID-19 testing.

    With the declaration of a national public health emergency, the real fight against this nascent pandemic has just begun in the Philippines. We echo the call for national discipline and solidarity among Filipinos here and abroad to defeat this public health scourge.