March 28, 2020 at 01:05 am
Charlie V. Manalo
"Not all is lost yet."
As we enter the second week of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, expect the number of those testing positive for COVID-19 to rise. This grim prediction is not from this writer but has been aired by no less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque who said that with the arrival and approval of new test kits, we can expect more tests to be conducted which could yield not-so-pleasant results.
But what could aggravate the situation is that March 29 would mark the 14th day of the quarantine and as we all know, the first day of work after the community quarantine put in effect resulted in a disaster of epic proportions. Seas of humanity flooded every checkpoint set up in the boundaries Metro Manila shares with its neighboring towns. While we pray for the best, we should also brace for the worst if there was even one virus carrier in each of those checkpoints.
Should such eventuality arise, the government has to use all the resources it has at its disposal and even those which the private sector could provide. With the number of PUIs and COVID-19 patients expected to balloon as Duque predicts it, quarantine centers (and not crematoriums yet as one advanced-thinking mayor has been attending to lately) should be set up using all existing facilities.
And one of those are passenger ships, which Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino is proposing.
Just recently, Tolentino requested the Department of Transportation to use vacant passenger ships as hospitals or temporary medical facilities to increase the bed capacity and to provide three ships initially for the health needs of the whole nation, in line with the passage and enactment the other day of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which empowers the President to use passenger ships as quarantine hospitals due to the current shortage of hospital beds.
“The State may take temporarily take over or direct the operations or any vessel engaged in domestic trade and commerce, or prescribe its rates or routes of operation in a state of national emergency and when required by public interest, under reasonable terms prescribed by it,” the lawmaker explained, citing Sec. 24 of Republic Act No. 9295 or the Domestic Shipping Development Act of 2004, as the basis for his proposal.
A passenger ship’s capacity can reach up to 1,200 passengers. These are available now, with most of these vacant and docked in the Port of Manila due to the travel restrictions. Tolentino said allowing these vessels to be used as temporary medical facilities will address the shortage of hospital spaces and will ease the burden of our hospitals and our health workers.
But of course, there’s more to quarantine facilities to combat this dreaded virus. And at the frontline are health workers, hospital crew including janitors, medical clerks, pharmacists, supermarket personnel, police, military personnel and barangay officials manning the checkpoints. And most of them are unduly exposed to the dangers COVID-19 pose, thanks but no thanks to bureaucratic red tape.
And all because of a measly P150 million in taxes to be collected from the imported assorted PPE the Bureau of Customs are still holding at the moment (measly compared to the almost P300 billion the government had allotted to address the contagion).
According to lawyer Larry Gadon, if there’s someone to be blamed for the shortage of PPE for the frontliners, it should be the BoC under the Department of Finance.
“What will you do with tax customs if thousands will die,” Gadons says.
Aside from the customs issue, Gadon says importers who have cleared customs are also “wary of selling openly because of the raids and accusations of hoarding,” prompting the lawyer to the government to let importers and sellers set the price of PPEs.
However, a better solution would be for the government to purchase all the available PPE whether those still in the Custom’s warehouses or already in the hands of the traders and distribute them to all those requiring them. In such a way, aside from eliminating hoarding and overpricing, the government can ensure these PPE would land in the hands of the proper persons.
With regard to determining the exact number of those infected, which is crucial in fighting the disease, the Food and Drug Administration under the Department of Health should expedite accreditation of test kits and laboratories for Covid 19 and that includes rapid test kits, according to House Deputy Majority Leader, Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera.
While she also lauded the swift action of the FDA on approving new COVID-19 testing kits for commercial use, she called on the DoH to expedite the search for and acquisition of rapid test kits that can provide accurate Covid 19 detection in as little as 30 minutes or within a few hours, so that mass testing can be begin soon.
Herrera stressed that everyone who suffers from symptoms identified with Covid 19 should be siubjected to mass testing, including those at the frontline.
So, while the number of Covid 19 patients continue to rise, we believe all is not lost yet. Together, we heal as one. If only the concerned persons and agencies could get their act together.