Reinforcing Catanduanes’ virus containment strategy

The administration of Mayor Peter Cua should be commended for its clear-headed and appropriate response to the positive test result of the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) who was a close contact of the San Miguel OFW, Bicol’s 82nd COVID-19 case.

Folllowing the emergency meeting of the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) last Saturday, June 13, 2020, the chief executive and his team implemented a partial lockdown on the immediate neighborhood of Bicol #83.

The following day, the patient, Catanduanes’ 3rd confirmed case, was moved to the Balay Silangan, a more secure facility where she stayed for a while before her transfer to an office building at the municipal eco-park some distance away from the residential area of Belmonte.

Last Monday morning, swab tests were done on 12 close contacts of the OFW, including seven members of her immediate family, a ferry passenger and an APOR who were on the ferry, two Emergency Rescue Unit (ERU) personnel who fetched her from the pier, and the RHU personnel who took the swab on June 9.

The results will be released anytime this Wednesday, June 17, and the Cua administration is hoping that none of the 12 will test positive.

Still, it has already conducted an inspection of its designated isolation facilities to ensure that the rooms are ready to accept occupants should any one of them test positive.

The relative calm but tense atmosphere in San Andres is in sharp contrast with the confusion and controversy swirling around Bicol #82.

Last week, initial reports floated various theories: the document itself was a fake, copied by the OFW’s son from the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) website, with the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) pointing out that the man’s document had too many logos of IATF agencies while the real one has only three, and that it did not indicate the laboratory and the date of the test result; the certificate was fraudulently issued and may have been acquired for a fee; and, based on the OFW’s claim, it was real and was handed to him by Coast Guard personnel before departure at the Philippine Integrated Terminal Exchange (PITX) in Parañaque City.

All these speculations are focused on the process of issuance of Quarantine Certificates, a document which all Filipinos who are familiar with Recto University know can be faked.

Except for the provincial government’s inquiry regarding the departure protocols for Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) appears to be dodging any blame over the controversy.

As it turns out, OWWA officials are concerned only with sending the stranded OFWs home, not with ensuring that they are doing so without bringing home the virus.

Not only is it failing to diligently check whether the traveling OFWs are indeed negative of COVID-19, it has neglected to inform their destination local government units on the OFW’s return ahead of time. As a result, many LGUs are scrambling to prepare isolation or quarantine facilities as they only learn of the OFW arrivals on the very day of their ferry travel to the island.

The decision of the provincial task force led by Gov. Joseph Cua to hire four personnel to do a strict screening of travel documents not only of ROFs but also of Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) and Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APORs) is in the right direction.

As one very concerned official of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) pointed out, the strengthening of the province’s containment strategy and the plugging of all possible loopholes should be done if the island is to remain relatively safe from the community transmission of coronavirus.

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