‘Duque’s statement rang hollow because more and more Filipinos are being afflicted with the virulent virus (as of Aug. 1, there were 98,232 cases of COVID-19 in the country) and there was no concrete response from the President.’
MALACAÑANG must have been stunned by the urgent and passionate plea of the country’s health workers on the COVID-19 crisis that all it could do was convene a meeting and that’s it.
It is not surprising because the health workers’ statement is a stinging indictment of the failure of the government to competently address the crisis even with a severe four -month lockdown.
One day after the health workers released a “distress signal” and asked for the return of the enhanced community quarantine to Mega Manila, which is now under a more relaxed general community quarantine or GCQ, for two weeks from Aug. 1 to 15, the only announcement from Malacañang is that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea met with some members of the cabinet Saturday and that they would be submitting their recommendation to the President that evening.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issued a statement saying: “Fellow health workers, please know that as the Secretary of Health, I hear your pleas — and I will present these to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force).
“We have noted in particular your call for a time-out for the NCR (National Capital Region). We will bring it to the full attention of the IATF and present to them more comprehensive strategies to protect our ranks.”
Duque’s statement rang hollow because more and more Filipinos are being afflicted with the virulent virus (as of Aug. 1, there were 98,232 cases of COVID-19 in the country) and there was no concrete response from the President.
The only other statement from Malacañang was from Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque who said: “The strict lockdown in Metro Manila has served its purpose, and we need to intensify other strategies.”
The health workers’ appeal, made one day after the government announced that Metro Manila will remain under GCQ, was contained in a letter addressed to President Duterte, COVID-19 chief implementor Carlito Galvez Jr. and Duque.
The appeal, which carried the names of city medical and health organizations, was read by Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Dr. Jose Santiago during an online press conference held by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP).
Highlights of the appeal which should move and alarm us:
*Hospital workforce deficiency – Hospitals in NCR are being overwhelmed by the alarming increase of COVID-19 cases these past weeks. The workforce is again effectively reduced because of the need for intermittent quarantine of personnel, and isolation of many who have fallen ill. To compound this, many have resigned because of fear, fatigue, and poor working conditions. Facilities have had to close because of these problems.
Failure of case finding and isolation is now being denied patients with symptoms. LGUs that do tests continue to insist on the use of inappropriate rapid antibody tests to identify cases of COVID-19, sending home patients with symptoms who test negative. This may be responsible for the surge of cases we are now experiencing because rapid tests miss more than half of people with active, contagious illness. In addition, patients with disease confirmed by RT-PCR are being turned away from isolation centers and forced to isolate in homes where this is hardly feasible.
*Failure of contract tracing and quarantine – Contract tracing is failing miserably. DOH and IATF guidance exist but LGU compliance is optional. The guidelines must be cascaded to our community leaders, health officers and local authorities and strictly enforced. A whole-of-society approach must be implemented, integrating use on non-uniformed personnel and volunteers.
The letter concluded: “Our health workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised. In the end, winning the war against COVID-19 relies heavily on being able to keep our health system capacitated to address the need of all Filipinos” and expressed the hope “that our government heeds the plea.”
The public awaits Duterte’s response.