Last weekend provided yet another urgent reminder to the provincial Covid-19 task force that it needs to adjust its strategy as far as the entry of returning Catandunganons and frequently traveling Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APORs) is concerned.
A one-year old boy tested positive for the coronavirus disease while in quarantine in a Virac barangay, a week after arriving from Quezon City. The infant had traveled with a family of four via Malacañang’s Balik Probinsiya program using a train of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) last June 25 and entered Tabaco port at midnight of the same day.
A few days later, the provincial government received word that two of the family’s fellow passengers on the same train had tested positive for the virus, prompting local health officials to test the boy.
He became the island’s 5th confirmed Covid-19 case. All previous four cases were Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs) who had either returned here on their own or repatriated by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA),
And it bears stressing that none of the hundreds of Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) brought her through the Catanduanes provincial government’s Balik Happy Island Program (BHIP) has tested positive for the virus, thanks to the mandatory Rapid Diagnostic Test required before departure.
As emphasized by the Tribune in a previous editorial, the BHIP’s success in keeping out infected individuals only highlights the reality that Covid-19 has come into the island by other means.
Three recent LSI arrivals were suspected of having used fake travel authorities while the most recent cases of coronavirus-infected passengers on the PNR train are blamed on the Balik Probinsiya’s lax requirements. To some, it appears the national government is in a hurry to send virus-vulnerable Metro Manila residents to their home provinces.
Last Monday, news about Bicol’s Patient #151 prompted Provincial Board Member Robert Fernandez to file a resolution urging the task force headed by Governor Joseph Cua to conduct mandatory rapid antibody testing to all persons entering Catanduanes, especially LSIs, ROFs and APORs, upon arrival at the two main ports.
The former Panganiban mayor recommended that the task force institute protocols for individuals using private vehicles in going to the island and proposed a hearing on the extension of the use of public school’s as quarantine facilities.
To the credit of the task force, however, it has already considered in its previous meeting the possibility of requiring rapid diagnostic testing on arrivals other than those brought her under the BHIP.
Obviously, as pointed out by Provincial Health Officer II Dr. Hazel Palmes, the rapid testing cannot be done at Tabaco Port, considering the expense that the provincial government would incur in case several test positive and need isolation or hospitalization on the mainland.
The rapid tests will have to be done upon arrival on the island, whether at the airport when commercial flights are finally allowed in or at the two main ports and the subport of Codon.
And the tests should be conducted by an accredited entity using reliable test kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration, not the ones donated by several groups that remain unused until now.
As PBM Fernandez noted, Catanduanes has an advantage in fighting the pandemic due to its geographical isolation, the zeal and dedication of its health workers, and the people’s general compliance with health protocols, as proven by the zero local transmission of the virus.
There is no need for the local task force to wait for local virus transmission before deciding on the issue of mandatory rapid tests for all port arrivals, including the APORs.