CEBU CITY – The provincial government of Cebu on Tuesday defended its “best practices” that slowed down the transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), including its diverse protocols on returning Cebuanos.
Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, local officials and health authorities met on Tuesday with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) led by Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III during a special session of the Provincial Board (PB).
The IATF presented a panel of medical experts headed by Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a molecular epidemiologist from the University of the Philippines, who said that the swab upon arrival method in detecting Covid-19 in arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) poses the risk of having false negative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results.
Salvaña defended the IATF protocols set through Resolution No. 114 which subject an arriving OFW or ROF to 10-day quarantine in a facility and four days at home and a mandatory RT-PCR test on the seventh day.
“Why are we doing this? Because we know that SARS-COV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) can incubate for as long as 14 days. Meaning, if you are infected in transit, it takes up to 14 days before symptoms can manifest,” he explained.
Salvaña clarified that the IATF has no objection to the swab upon arrival policy, stressing that if proper quarantine is done, it prevents transmission of coronavirus.
However, he presented Taiwan’s case where a surge in Covid-19 cases was attributed to the shortened quarantine period for pilots and flight crew from five days to three.
Also present during the special session were National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Secretary Michael Lloyd Dino, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, IATF-Visayas chief implementer Melquiades Feliciano and DOH-7 chief pathologist Dr. Mary Jean Loreche.
Salvaña also warned the Cebuanos about the presence in the country of the Delta variant of Covid-19, which is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha or UK variant, with a shorter incubation period.
“When Alpha variant is 60 percent more transmissible than the original variant, it means that (the transmissibility of) the virus has leveled up,” he pointed out.
He told the PB members and other officials present that a Delta variant-positive individual can infect as many as five to eight persons.
The country, he noted, now has 17 active cases of this variant.
Nograles described the Delta variant as a “supervening event” which may disturb not only the health but also the economy of the country.
Galvez also warned the PB members about sending OFWs and ROFs for home quarantine, saying social distancing and other health protocols are difficult to observe while in the house.
However, a member of the board said village peace corps, medical and emergency rescue teams, barangay health workers and barangay council members in Cebu are very active in monitoring people who are subject to home quarantine.
Galvez said a person tested positive for Covid-19 can easily be isolated from the rest of the people in the community if is he placed in a facility.
Duque thanked the PB for hearing the side of the experts from the IATF, saying, however, that they are willing to learn from the best practices in the fight against Covid-19 which are found to be effective in other places like Cebu.
“The quarantine protocol that has been followed by the nation, except for the province of Cebu, with all due respect to the governor and officials of the province, the resolution is fair inasmuch as the quarantine period must be for full 14 days done in government (identified) facility and the remaining four days is done at home and testing is done on seventh day. And if negative, he can be properly turned over on the tenth day to the LGU where he resides,” he said.
Duque underscored the support and approval of President Rodrigo Duterte of the IATF protocol.
Nograles praised the provincial government’s successful fight against Covid-19, but reminded the local officials not to be complacent in the fight against Covid-19.
Plea for reconsideration
Garcia, for her part, stood pat on the protocols being implemented by the provincial government for the arriving OFWs and ROFs at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
She reminded the IATF that her attention was called when she strictly imposed strict border control in February last year even before the start of Covid-19 spike in different places in the country.
Garcia said the provincial ordinance that adopted Executive Order No. 17 on the swab upon arrival rule applies to Cebuanos who are going home from abroad.
“I respectfully inform the good secretary that we have over 2,400 beds for isolation. Practically all of our towns have constructed hygienic isolation centers that can be designated as quarantine facility (for the returning OFWs and ROFs),” the governor said, adding that town mayors and village chiefs are ready and have made their localities well-equipped in combating Covid-19. (With a report from Carlo Lorenciana/PNA)