Last July 7, 2021, the mayors of the 11 towns joined provincial officials in a virtual meeting with the top honchos of the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force to discuss IATF Resolution No. 124-B on relaxed travel protocols for fully-vaccinated individuals.
As may be recalled, Malacanang spokesperson Harry Roque had announced that fully-vaccinated individuals could travel without a negative RT-PCR test result by using only their vaccination cards to get past border controls.
A few days later, the IATF backtracked on its much-applauded decision, leaving to the local government units the discretion to require RT-PCR test results from fully-vaccinated travelers.
The flip-flop naturally drew negative reactions from the populace.
The IATF-EID’s latest resolution clarifies that LGUs “may accept” the Covid-19 vaccination card or a certificate of quarantine completion “as an alternative to RT-PCR testing.”
In the province of Catanduanes, Governor Joseph Cua has made no secret of his personal opinion that all travelers, whether ordinary citizens or all Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APORs), should be required to undergo RT-PCR swab tests prior to entry into the island.
APORs, whether they be from the national agencies, LGUs or private companies, are not immune from the coronavirus, the chief executive has been heard repeating in recent meetings on the pandemic.
Tourists from Metro Manila as well as natives returning to the island for a much-needed break, therefore, should not expect the stringent requirements to be relaxed anytime sooner.
With the first 10 days of July bringing in 108 new COVID-19 cases, up by 24 percent from the same period last month, would-be travelers are expectedly riled when considering the fact that, despite the Catanduanes LGU’s success in keeping out COVID-positive travelers from entering the island, the number of new cases keep increasing.
Particularly standing out is the statistic that out of the 108 new cases just this month, only two have been confirmed to have a travel history. Of the other 106 cases, 67 are close contacts of confirmed cases while contact tracers have yet to determine the exposure history of the 39 others.
This only confirms what knowledgeable citizens already know: that there is already community transmission of the virus and local officials, from the executive, law enforcement to health offices, are not doing much to counter it.
Note that from March 2020 to May 10, 2021, there were only 304 COVID-19 cases on the island. In just five short weeks, this figure doubled to more than 600 by June 23.
It is ironic that the island’s success in implementing strict entry protocols is negated by its officials’ utter failure in preventing the virus from circulating among their constituents.
Much of the blame can be pinned on local official’s negligent attitude as seen through their constituents’ refusal to heed minimum health standards, particularly the wearing of face masks and the observance of physical distancing.
There is also that “allowance” local chief executives concede to their supporters, be it gathering cockfight aficionados in daily online sabong unmolested by the police or permitting wakes for the dead complete with “misa,” drinking and gambling tables.
If this spike in coronavirus cases becomes a surge of severely-affected patients that overwhelm local hospitals, the people will know who to blame.