Cebu City, starting July 1 up to July 15, will remain under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) as COVID -19 cases continue to rise.
Metro Manila and other areas, meanwhile, will stay under a General Community Quarantine (GCQ).
Malacanang, on the other hand, urged to open up more areas of the country currently under lockdown to help restart the economy.
President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted residents of Cebu City and neighboring Talisay City, saying that the Visayas metropolis was now the hotspot of the country’s coronavirus pandemic as they failed to follow orders.
Metro Manila and other areas showed “substantial compliance” to government directives to control the COVID-19 epidemic, an observation shared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Duterte said there were quarantine violations in these areas, but not on the scale he had seen in Cebu, as he upbraided its residents, using his native Cebuano language, for their hard-headedness and non-compliance with health protocols.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, whom Duterte vouched for, saying his trust in him “was not a press release”, announced the areas under varying levels of quarantine starting July 1, with more areas put under “low-risk modified GCQ.”
This was necessary because, as Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez explained in the same meeting with the President Tuesday night, the National Capital Region and the Calabarzon areas south of Metro Manila “should move to MGCQ as quickly as possible since 67 percent of economy is based on these areas.”
Meanwhile, localized lockdowns in Metro Manila will suffice to control the transmission of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.
The coronavirus situation in Metro Manila does not warrant a stricter lockdown, WHO Philippine representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said.
But he described as a “worrying situation” the local government units’ (LGUs) “poor compliance” with guidelines set by the Department of Health (DOH) with regards to combatting COVID-19.
Also, the DOH said it has decided to make the deployment of rural doctors to Cebu City voluntary after several doctors and organizations criticized the plan.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a media briefing that the DOH was trying to bring all its resources to bear when it decided to deploy physicians under the Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program to Cebu City, which is experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
During the regular Laging Handa briefing on Tuesday, Abeyasinghe praised the DOH guidelines on managing positive cases and putting them on quarantine as “very good.”
However, compliance by LGUs with the guidelines “does not seem to be universally good,” Abeyasinghe said.
“The DOH issued very good guidelines in managing positive cases, how to quarantine them, but the implementation in local government units is different,” Abeyasinghe said.
“We see poor compliance with guidelines, we see [the] number of [COVID-19] cases increasing, and this is actually becoming a worrying situation,” he said
Pending the discovery of a vaccine, countries, including the Philippines, should heavily invest on non-pharmaceutical interventions such as contact tracing to minimize the health and economic impact of COVID-19, Abeyasinghe said.
“What we are advocating is that the DOH and the government invest in expanding testing capacity and contact tracing so we can isolate and prevent further transmission,” he said.
“Unfortunately, this aspect of Philippine response needs strengthening,” Abeyasinghe said.
There has been improvement in the country’s contact tracing efforts in the last month “but it is not keeping pace with the expansion of testing capacity,” he said.
While the Philippines has the capacity to conduct 60,000 COVID-19 tests per day, the actual COVID-19 tests done per day is just around 15,000 due to lack of laboratory supplies, Abeyasinghe said.
The WHO official recommended that LGUs impose localized lockdowns instead.
Metro Manila transitioned to a GCQ at the start of June from a modified ECQ as the government sought to restart economic activity.
The NCR had been the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines, but recently government officials have reported Cebu City and Cebu Province as among the emerging hotspots because of the recent spike in cases.
The DTTB was established by the DOH in 1993 to address the lack of doctors in far-flung rural areas.
When the DOH announced it was going to deploy DTTB doctors to Cebu City, two batches questioned the move, saying they were not consulted.
The doctors called it an “exploitative order,” especially since some would be placed in private hospitals. They said it went against the thrust of the DTTB program, which was to serve disadvantaged areas.
The Community Medicine and Development Foundation also said that the DOH was “gaslighting” the doctors to make it appear that they are being unpatriotic when they are only ensuring that they serve “resource-poor communities who are also in dire need of care.”
Cebu City has recorded 5,915 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of 5 p.m. of June 29, of which, 3,374 are active.
The neighboring cities of Mandaue and Lapu-lapu have 772 and 609 confirmed cases, respectively, of which, 530 and 475 are active. For the rest of Cebu province, a total of 1,120 cases have been recorded, of which, 834 are active.
A week after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) went to Cebu City to help manage the public health crisis, it called for the efficient management of patient care centers to decongest hospitals handling severe cases.
Melquiades Feliciano, IATF deputy chief implementer for Visayas, said proper management of isolation and quarantine facilities will enable medical front-liners to better handle severe COVID-19 cases.
Feliciano said if mild to moderate cases, suspected, and probable ones are taken to the patient care centers, doctors will be able to focus on serious COVID-19 patients brought to hospitals.
“We need to enhance the system to avoid people from going straight to the hospitals. We have Barangay Isolation Centers (BICs) and quarantine facilities. If we are able to manage them well, we will certainly decongest our hospitals,” Feliciano said in Filipino.
Mary Jean Loreche, DOH chief pathologist, confirmed that many patients who have been experiencing mild and moderate symptoms of COVID-19 are not following referral protocols by going straight to private hospitals.
“Many of our patients want to be admitted in private hospitals because our government hospitals, like the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, have eventually been converted into a COVID-19 facility. But private hospitals only allocated a certain percentage of their capacity for COVID patients,” she said.
The DOH-7, Loreche said, has already deployed more than a hundred nurses to augment the front-liners in private hospitals.
Earlier, DOH-7 regional director, Dr. Jaime Bernadas, called on barangay officials to coordinate with the operations center of the health agency in the region for the referral of COVID-19 patient from their locality./Stacy Ang