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As New Lockdown Takes Hold, Philippines Reboots COVID-19 Strategy

23 million are on stay at home orders.
by Joel Guinto
Aug 4, 2020
Photo/s: Courtesy of Jerome Ascano

On the first day of the stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, the Department of Health said it would meet with stakeholders to recalibrate its pandemic-fighting strategy as millions in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces hunkered down for the 15-day Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine.

The new strategy could be ready by Friday and implemented immediately, said Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire. The National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal were placed under MECQ after health frontliners warned over the weekend that fast-rising infections risked overwhleming the system.

The MECQ will reimpose familiar restrictions: stay at home except for essential errands and quarantine passes for those going out of their houses. Public transportation is suspended while businesses allowed under the GCQ or General Community Quarantine will be shut. Some 23 million will be affected by the MECQ, according to an estimate by Agence France-Presse.

"We’re calling everybody to be the solution. It is a significant behavioral change in all areas of our life that keep us and our love ones safe," Vergeire said Monday. "The virus will be here for a long time while organizations are working on a vaccine. In the meantime, each of one is asked to observe minimum health requirements as part of our healthy lifestyle."

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Hospital directors are urged to increase the number of hospital beds alloted for COVID-19 patients to 30% to 40% should the situation worsen, said Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega, also the governmnt's Treatment Czar. Manila has adopted a four-point strategy, with a "czar" overseeing each one -- test, trace, isolate and treat. Hospital beds and isolation wards are now at 80% capacity, while intensive care units or ICUs are at 79%, nearing 80% capacity, he said.

Vergiere said the DOH called in personnel from its regional offices to serve as reinforcements in Metro Manila. She said a mechanism for private health care workers to do the same was also being worked out.

Localized lockdowns will "destroy" clusters of cases before they spread to larger communities, she said. Health Department officials will help barangay officials go house-to-house in search of active cases and those with symptoms of the disease so they can be isolated, she said.

With 70% of COVID-19 beds occupied, private hospitals are in the "danger zone," said Jose Rene de Grano, Executive Vice President of the Private Hospital's Association of the Philippines. "Hindi po kaya. Kulang kami ng staff. Sino mag-manage ng pasyente kung maadmit sa opsital? Saan kukuha ng panggastos sa facility na to? (We don't have the capability. We don't have enough staffing. Who will manage those who are admitted in the hospital? Who will spend for these facilities?)," he said.

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