By Tracy Cabrera
EVACUEES returned to their homes on Friday afternoon to retrieve belongings that might still be of use in Barangay San Jose, Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal province—one of the areas hardest hit by typhoon Ulysses—but health officials warned of a “very strong possibility” of local Covid-19 cases increasing further due to overcrowding in evacuation centers.
At a press briefing, health secretary Francisco Duque III announced that designated “safety officers (in all evacuation centers) should keep a close watch” and implement the instructions provided by the health department in making sure that evacuees follow the minimum health guidelines on Covid-19 prevention such as the wearing of protective masks, observing physical distancing and exercising proper hygiene like frequent washing of hands.
Duque noted that evacuees were usually allowed to return to their homes once the storm had moved away from the country but in school buildings and campus facilities that were being used as evacuation sites, he said it would be advisable to have just one family per classroom or tent.
“The shelters should also be well-ventilated and have separate rooms for high-risk individuals,” the health secretary added.
At another briefing, health undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also issued the same reminders to Ulysses evacuees, stressing that “despite the difficulty of the situation, we have to strictly follow the minimum health safety protocols because it is through this that we can help prevent being infected.”
She likewise appealed to local government units hard hit by the typhoon to help ensure that evacuees are adequately supplied with face masks, adding that wet surgical or cloth masks should be replaced with medical-grade masks since they are no longer considered effective against the coronavirus.
Latest data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) show that a total of 40,518 families, or 156,995 people, have been affected by Ulysses in 648 villages in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (CaLaBaRZon) and Bicol regions.
Of those numbers, 18,818 families, or 70,294 people, were staying in 755 evacuation centers as of Friday.
Ulysses was the 21st storm to hit the country this year, according to the state weather service, which said that three more storms might hit the country before year-end.
Apart from Covid-19, the DSWD and the DoH are also on guard against the outbreak of other illnesses, such as leptospirosis, acute gastroenteritis, diarrhea and acute dermatitis.
Vergeire urged local officials to ensure the supply of clean water to keep communities safe from these waterborne diseases. (ia)