Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday warned community-level transmission of the new coronavirus disease—one of the triggers for a lockdown—will likely happen “over the very short term” as cases soared to 49 with 16 more COVID-19 positive patients.
At least 40,000 policemen will be deployed in the event the government decides to implement a lockdown in certain areas in Metro Manila, Philippine National Police chief Archie Gamboa said.
Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Felimon Santos Jr., for his part, said the military is prepared to augment the PNP for a “whole-of-government” approach in containing the spread of the virus.
“What we have now is localized transmission in the areas we have earlier mentioned. But the situation can very quickly progress into a community transmission, which means there could be a larger area of affected communities,” Duque said during a hearing of the House committee on health.
“It’s going to be a very real occurrence over the very short term...When evidence points to community transmission, we will resort first to a localized lockdown rather than the whole NCR locking down. We have to be careful on the implications of a metro-wide lockdown,” he added.
The country was placed under Code Red, Sub-Level 1 over the weekend. Once there is sustained community transmission or an increasing number of local cases whose links cannot be established, Code Red, Sub-Level 2 will be raised and the strategy will shift from intensive contract tracing to community-level quarantine or lockdown, and possible suspension of work or school.
Gamboa said the National Capital Region Police Office has 28,000 policemen who can be tapped.
“The PNP here in Camp Crame, including national separate units, has a strength of around 10,000...So more or less, we have 38,000 to 40,000 to utilize in case these things would come up,” the PNP chief said.
In a media briefing, Health Assistant Secretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the only available data on the 16 new cases are their age and gender.
She also announced that 442 out of the 445 repatriates from Japan quarantined at the Athlete’s Vollage in New Clark City in Capaz, Tarlac, were already sent home by the Department of Health (DOH) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. One remained in hospital, pending test results.
Two others—referred as Patient 25 and Patient 26—both crew members of M/V Diamond Princess who tested positive for COVID-19, are being treated in a referral hospital.
All repatriates, together with the teams that attended to them, were all tested for COVID-19 to ensure their safety.
Disinfection procedures for the rooms used by the two patients have been implemented. Close contact of the two comfirmed cases will undergo additional 14-day home quarantine. They will be continuously monitored by the respective municipal and city health offices, Vergeire said.
The DOH official said the 445 repatriates are composed of 437 crew members and five passengers of the cruise ship who were all tested for COVID-19.
DOH Hospitals from NCR, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region, and Bicol Region also deployed additional health workers to help monitor and care for the almost 500 repatriates.
“We commend the health workers who have been tirelessly caring for our repatriates for the past month. First, those from Wuhan, and now those from Japan. Their dedication to their work and their countrymen is truly inspiring,” Duque said.
He said the DOH and deployed surveillance teams are now conducting extensive information-gathering and contact tracing activities on the new cases and would provide further details as the information became available.
DOH is continuously monitoring the statuses of all patients to ensure that no complications arise throughout their recovery, Duque added.
In the Senate, a bill seeks to give the DOH the power to lock down infected areas and suspend classes, among other measures, during public health emergencies.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, meanwhile, said there is no pressing reason yet to place Metro Manila on lockdown.
He added that the size of an area for community lockdown would depend on various circumstances.
If a lockdown is deemed necessary, Año said, local government units, with the support of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, would be ready to enforce it.
In the House, Duque admitted that the declaration of a public emergency could have been done earlier, had he done it himself and not wait for President Rodrigo Duterte to make the announcement.
At the hearing conducted by the House committee on health, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate pressed Duque to admit that he should have done the declaration himself amid the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country.
Zarate reminded Duque that under Section 7 of the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Law,” the Health secretary is given the authority to “declare epidemics of national and/or international concerns except when the same threaten national security.”
In the same hearing, Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon criticized the lack of communication lines within the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the body tasked to manage the coronavirus outbreak.
Biazon said Duque must have asserted his authority as “incident commander” on the situation.
He said it appeared there was “no proper communication or coordination” among Duque, private hospitals and local government units.
Also on Wednesday, Mayor Joy Belmonte on Wednesday confirmed the fourth case of COVID-19 in Quezon City.
The fourth case was confirmed to by the Department of Health’s National Capital Region office, she said.
The third case was a 52-year-old Filipino male from Project 6 with a travel history to Switzerland.
He has been admitted at the St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City.
The first two confirmed cases are a 57-year-old male and an individual from Timog.
The city mayor denied reports that she proposed a lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines urged President Duterte to provide a government cash subsidy to workers who would be displaced in the event of a lockdown.
“We call upon President Duterte to provide workers with cash subsidy as government financial aid to daily-paid workers and those no-work no-pay employees who might be affected in case the government enforces a lockdown on COVID-19-hit areas where their workplaces are located,” TUCP president Raymond Mendoza said. He added that the subsidy could be drawn from the President’s Social Fund.
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