All close contacts of Catanduanes’ first confirmed COVID-19 case, at least those who swabbed by local health authorities, have tested negative of the presence of the new coronavirus.
Last Saturday night, the Bicol Regional Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (BRDRL) released the results of the tests done on specimens taken from three persons who had attended the birthday party tendered by the 63-year old Case #25 for her 95-year old father in Virac last March 7, 2020.
The trio reportedly developed symptoms sometime after the party and was among the residents locked down in barangay Hitoma in Caramoran shortly after the woman, who is a permanent resident of Japan, tested positive on April 17.
While numerous persons attended the party, only Case #25’s immediate family of six, the nurse who attended to her, the medical technologist who took the swabs, and the three Hitoma residents were tested for the presence of the virus.
All the rest, from her fellow passengers on the bus from Manila and the aircon accommodation on the ferry, to those who were also present during the birthday celebration, were advised to go on a 14-day home quarantine and to report their health conditions on a daily basis.
If none of them exhibit symptoms, and Case #25 tests negative for the 2nd time, then Governor Joseph Cua can rightfully announce that Catanduanes is COVID-free.
Any threat of a new coronavirus case would come not from within but from outside the island. The virus carrier would be either one who manages to sneak during the night onto the beaches far from watchful eyes of law enforcers and barangay tanods, or anyone of the Authorized Person Outside Residence (APOR) who are allowed to travel to and from GCQ and ECQ areas.
According to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), these APORs are health workers, government officials and government frontline personnel, those traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons transiting to the airport for travel abroad, workers in permitted establishments and persons providing essential goods, services, and public utilities, essential skeleton workforce, repatriated OFWs and non-OFWs returning to their residences, and, persons transported through efforts of the national government upon the conduct of the necessary quarantine protocols and in concurrence with the receiving local government units.
“Land, air or sea travel by uniformed personnel and government officials and employees for official business, with the corresponding travel authority, especially those transporting medical supplies and laboratory specimens related to COVID-19, and other relief and humanitarian assistance, shall be allowed,” a Malacanang spokesman said.
With only a perfunctory health check at the port of entry and 14-day home quarantine to undergo, any asymptomatic APOR carrying the virus could conceivably spread the disease to anyone he comes in contact with on the island.
Local health officials are not even certain if the APOR arrivals would be complying with the quarantine. In fact, some of cargo truck drivers carrying essential goods often go around the island to deliver orders to their clients, mixing with unsuspecting members of the public.
And there has been no visible move to penalize those who violate quarantine protocols, except in the case of the Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) ferry captain who has been preventively suspended for 30 days by management for smuggling his Cavite-based brother into the island recently.
Clearly, cargo trucks should not be allowed to deliver to towns outside Virac and San Andres ports to limit exposure in case their crew carry the virus.
And the Catanduanes Provincial Police Office as well as the Philippine Army should ensure that their personnel who move across Maqueda channel armed with mission orders are free of COVID-19 and strictly follow health standards set by the Department of Health.
The island has been given a second chance to really keep the new coronavirus from infecting any one of its 270,000 inhabitants. This is the time for local officials and government agencies to do better.