Seven days into March, the number of new COVID-19 cases in the province of Catanduanes has now reached 18, surpassing the tally for February 2021.
This week brought the fourth death from the coronavirus disease on the island, Patient Bicol No. 4825, who was exposed to a confirmed case. He and one other engineer were reported to be asymptomatic and were quarantined, but apparently #4825’s condition took a turn for the worst and had to be hospitalized at the Eastern Bicol Medical Center where he expired.
Of a more worrying nature is the report of the Provincial Health Office that of the new cases this March, majority have been exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases. This apparently confirms long-held belief that there is already community transmission here, something which has yet to be admitted by the Department of Health (DOH).
For months now, the provincial government has asked the DOH-CHD and even the central office of the health department to confirm if there is community transmission in the island but got no reply.
The upsurge in new cases last December 2020, with 38, and this first week of the month would most likely be blamed on the lax implementation of minimum health standards at the local level.
Observers and frequent travelers have noted that it is only in the town centers that most people are seen wearing masks and face shields, with the practice forgotten as soon as one gets to the rural areas far from where uniformed authorities are based.
No less than the PHO, worried by the increase in recent cases, have identified a breach in quarantine protocols as one of the reasons behind the upsurge.
This is apparently a nationwide scenario as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has been forced to direct all local government units (LGUs) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to implement a crackdown on quarantine violators and intensify the enforcement of minimum health standards in all barangays.
With a spike in recent cases increasing the daily record to more than 3,000 cases a day for several days, DILG Officer-in-Charge Bernardo C. Florece, Jr. said that the LGUs and the police have become complacent in their roles in the campaign against the pandemic.
The wearing of face masks and face shields and physical distancing should be strictly imposed in all LGUs and violators should be fined based on the prevailing ordinances, the DILG stated.
It added that temperature checks and filling out contact tracing forms manually or thru the Stay Safe app should also be a must in all establishments and work places.
LGUs should have enacted local ordinances providing sanctions to those who violate the minimum health standards set by the national government thru the Interagency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).
According to Florece, LGUs can reverse the rising trend of coronavirus cases by ensuring no lag time from symptom onset, testing, contact tracing, and isolation and in strictly implementing the 10-day isolation and 14-day quarantine for those positive and with symptoms.
It can implement localized lockdown within a town, city, sitio, street, or block without the need to request approval from the IATF, the DILG stressed.
Somehow, it is strange that the IATF recently relaxed the requirements for inter-province travel, removing the travel authority and medical certificate from those to be presented at the border controls.
Is this to blame for the rise in new cases?
Perhaps not, since the lifting has been in effect for just a few days, even before the 18 new cases for March were swabbed for their RT-PCR tests.
If there is anyone who needs to be criticized for the situation that the island is now in as far as the pandemic is concerned, the LGU and the police should not be singled out.
As it has been pointed out before, the war against COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility, whether you have been vaccinated or not.
You, the citizen, have to protect yourself from the virus, so that you can protect others around you.