Hospital ships may be the answer

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    TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade has favorably responded to the suggestion of Sen. Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino to deploy ships, either privately owned or from the Philippine Coast Guard, as emergency hospitals during this time of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Tolentino made the proposal to Tugade in a letter last week in which the senator noted the quick surge of COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed private and public hospitals, straining the whole health care system.

    Noting Secretary Tugade’s prompt action to his proposal, the senator said, “We commend the DOTr and thank the good Secretary for his quick and positive response to our proposal and his decisive action as to the deployment of the hospital ships.”

    Senator Tolentino added that the move will ease the burden of public medical facilities in addressing the growing need for hospital beds during this time of national health emergency.

    The transportation department will initially provide three passenger vessels — one for Luzon (Manila port), Visayas (Cebu port), and Mindanao (Davao port) to serve as hospital ships, with each vessel able to carry up to 1,200 passengers. The Department of Health and the Department of Public Works and Highways will be in charge of retrofitting these ships for immediate use as health facilities for COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation.

    Acting on the suggestion, the DOTr secretary immediately called a meeting of the concerned attached agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard, MARINA and Philippine Ports Authority to discuss the plan to commission private passenger vessels and if necessary, PCG vessels, as hospital ships.

    Tugade also instructed MARINA head Vice Adm. Narciso Vingson Jr. to coordinate with ship owners and the health department and operationalize the plan within five days from March 26, and as of yesterday, Vingson reported back to Tugade that he has made the proper coordination.

    If this idea is implemented seamlessly, then it will be a major contribution of the maritime sector in the whole-nation strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

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