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A disturbing development

Since the Luzon-wide lockdown began, Filipinos were told that they should stay home to stay safe from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Now that advice seems suspect, given reports that hospitals in Metro Manila, already stretched to their limits, are sending home patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 for self-quarantine.

“In the past, when you test positive, they pick you up, they take you in into a facility,” said Mayor Joy Belmonte, who says she knows of at least three COVID-19 patients who were asked to go home in Quezon City. “But what happens now is that when you test positive, you're just told that you just go home and you self-quarantine.”

Two of the patients who were sent home to Quezon City had actually sought admission in hospitals in Manila and Taguig.

The mayor adds that there are more than just three cases—but she has been unable to say how many more COVID-19-positive patients have been sent home.

The practice has serious implications for entire communities in the city, as this may make their families and neighbors more vulnerable to the disease. Households in poorer districts, for example, may be unable to keep their infected kin in the isolation required to protect everybody else in the same house.

The practice, apparently, is covered by a Department of Health memorandum that states “persons under investigation (PUIs) and positive COVID-19 patients who exhibit mild symptoms with no co-morbidities and are non-elderly are advised to be sent home for strict self-isolation and close monitoring by local health authorities.”

The Department of Interior and Local Government, meanwhile, has issued a memorandum directing all barangays to set up isolation facilities for cases that need not be immediately admitted to hospitals.

But not all barangays are able to comply, and those that do likely do not have enough space to safely isolate more than a handful of patients.

The situation highlights how unprepared our health care system is to deal with a deluge of infectious patients—and how urgent action is required now, before more COVID-positive patients are sent home for self-isolation with uncertain results.

“In an ideal situation, all COVID positives should be in an institution, or institutionalized in a hospital, but the problem is that there's really a lack of bed spaces in all our hospitals now,” the Quezon City mayor says.

Clearly, this is a problem beyond the expertise and resources of local government units. The national government must step in to quickly address the dire shortage of hospital beds, a problem that threatens to thwart all the benefits we hoped to gain from the Luzon-wide lockdown.

Topics: novel coronavirus , COVID-19 , Joy Belmonte , persons under investigation
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