THE cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu may transition from enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ) on May 21, 2020, depending on the results of the mass testing under the Project Balik Buhay (PBB).

The three cities are under ECQ to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Department of Health (DOH) 7 Director Jaime Bernadas said 10 percent of the total number of households in the cities will be tested. Based on the data of each of the cities' health departments, a total of 46,896 individuals will be tested.

The strategic mass testing will begin on Monday, May 4, according to the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (Opav), which initiated the PBB with the three city governments, the DOH 7 and the private sector.

At the start of the testing, 137 barangays of the three cities will be tagged as red zones as these have high cases of Covid-19, said Cebu City Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, who represents the public sector in the PBB. The other zones' color codes are orange for moderate cases and green for zero case.

Last April 23, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the recommendation to extend the ECQ until May 15 in the National Capital Region as well as in 24 provinces and two cities that have been identified as high risk areas for Covid-19. Among the local government units identified were the Province of Cebu and the highly urbanized city of Cebu.

However, on Tuesday, April 28, Malacañang said the list of areas with an ECQ until May 15 had been trimmed to three regions, four provinces and three cities.

These are the National Capital Region (or Metro Manila), Central Luzon region except Aurora province, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Pangasinan, Benguet, Baguio City, Iloilo province, Cebu province, Cebu City and Davao City.

New normal

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said the provincial government is gearing towards countryside development in the post-Covid-19 Cebu.

She said on Tuesday, April 28, that she will issue an executive order forming the Task Force New Normal, which will create policies and guidelines for the Capitol to follow in the event that the province is placed under GCQ.

Garcia will chair the task force, which will be composed of several national agencies—Department of Agriculture, DOH, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Trade Industry.

The other members will be from the business sector, travel industry, airline companies, public transport, bus operators and sea travel.

Task Force New Normal will take into consideration the lessons learned after the ECQ took effect last March 30.

Under ECQ, the quarantine measures are stringent, public transportation system is suspended and only essential businesses are allowed to operate. When a place is under GCQ, its quarantine measures are relaxed, public transportation is allowed but in reduced capacity to observe social distancing, 50 to 100 percent reopening of select establishments (subject to minimum health standards) is also allowed and the GCQ status is further relaxed if there is no more deterioration in public health.

Scientific approach

The PBB mass testing is "one way of gradually re-opening the community" through a scientific, evidence-based method, according to the Opav in a press statement. The Food and Drug Administration-approved test kits will be used.

"When we (will) do this, we should expect a rise in positive cases given that the virus is highly transmissible. We fear that possibility but it should not be a cause for panic. Knowing our status is a step towards a solution and is way better than fighting this disease blindly," Bernadas said.

The PBB aims to complete the rapid testing in barangays between May 15 and May 20.

"A total of 33 teams composed of nurses and medical technologists will be deployed to conduct sample collections at the barangays with the help of our BHWs (barangay health workers) and BHERTs (Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams)," Bernadas said.

Each of the teams is expected to collect 150 samples per day. The samples will be sent to partner laboratories of the DOH 7, said Bernadas.

All the tested residents must stay at their homes while waiting for the results. The positive results will be subjected for confirmatory tests using the polymerase chain reaction testing. If the confirmatory tests yield positive results, the individuals showing no Covid-19 symptoms (dry cough, fever and difficulty in breathing) will be transferred to the barangay isolation centers.

The individuals who show symptoms will be transferred to quarantine facilities or hospitals, said Bernadas.

Vital business

If the mass testing yields several negative results, the essential businesses can reopen on May 21.

Regional Development Council 7 Chairman Kenneth Cobonpue, who represented the private sector, said companies that will reopen must conduct rapid testing on all their workers starting on May 14. The testing will be shouldered by the company.

Establishments considered as priority are the basic utility providers, banking and finance, business process outsourcing, professional and office services, manufacturing companies, warehousing, parts and repairs maintenance, priority construction and construction supply chain, e-commerce and delivery and media.

Supermarkets, public transport firms, public markets, private security agencies, hotels and dormitories for long term stay are also a priority.

Cobonpue said employees who yielded negative results will be given an electronic pass under the PBB program. The pass will allow them to move freely within the three cities.

When businesses resume operating, health protocols must still be observed including social distancing. (JJL & RTF)