EXPLAINER: Cebu City Council inquiry on mass testing seeks answers, perhaps not to derail 'Balik Buhay'

FROM what Cebu City Vice Mayor Mike Rama has been saying and other indicators, the Cebu City Council won't stop the mass RDTs (rapid diagnostic tests) in the city.

The councilors may just want to find out how the project will be done, whether the city is prepared to handle an expected surge of positive cases of coronavirus infection, and such "sensitive" information as to how much the test kits cost, where they were bought and if they are reliable.

It is apparently an outburst, a demonstration of the recurring complaint of Vice Mayor Rama: about him and the council he leads being "shut out" from policy-making on City Hall's fight against the pandemic. The executive only asks for money, then keeps us out, VM Rama in effect said in his recent lament.

Not just Mike Rama

On record, it was not only Mike Rama who initiated the inquiry into the "Balik Buhay" project undertaken by Cebu City with two other cities, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu, under the lead of Michael Dino, presidential assistant for the Visayas, with Department of Health and Regional Development Council.

These public officials who have stepped on public stage to raise questions about the mass RDTs:

[1] Councilor Nestor Archival, who sponsored the resolution (SP Res. #15-2425-2020) asking for a conference to discuss the mayor's "policy direction in combating Covid-19."

Which, the resolution said, includes the rapid tests. (The meeting was scheduled for Monday, May 4.)

[2] Councilor Edu Rama, who raised in media his doubts about the capability of city resources to cope with an expected surge of positive coronavirus cases. The quarantine and isolation facilities might not be enough if the spike would be as high as those in other plague-struck countries. Edu sees turmoil in the city if that would happen.

[3] Councilor Antonio Cuenco, who publicly listed his questions about the project, which his surrogates indicated might lead to putting off or even derailing the project. In tabloid fashion, someone said it could lead to arrests.

What may come out of it

Those expecting fireworks at the session may be disappointed. It might not happen or it would but not enough to put off further the mass tests. Last Sunday, Mayor Labella announced a resetting of dates to May 6 because of "barangay concerns," not the noise set off by those questioning the project.

The Archival resolution talks of "coming up with a blueprint on its action plan." Meaning, they may want to see details of "Balik Buhay," a fair request from the policy-making body of the city government.

Not a 'revolt'

But who would and could rally at this time an opposition strong enough to halt the project? Not Mike Rama who has been publicly and privately whining now and then but has not yet crossed the "Rubicon" he used to talk about grandly.

Not the councilors of Partido Barug who presumably are still loyal to Mayor Labella. Not the BOPK members who are outvoted in the Sanggunian, unless some disgruntled Barug councilors would align with them.

In sum, a City Hall watcher says, it's not a good time for any revolt. "The public would get upset. It would be unpatriotic."

Where it would help

The city councilors though may prompt the mayor to make more effort to make the public understand what is going on and what will happen.

City Hall could give more information or explanation, which might have been overlooked because of the rush:

[1] Why the project is necessary to have basis for the next move: lift or modify the lockdown, ease or tighten restrictions. How City Hall and DOH will deal with a possible overload of positive cases of coronavirus. Whether their projection on the spike is correct and if they are wrong, what will be happen.

[2] Explaining simply and clearly how it will affect those tested and if found positive are isolated or quarantined. That is what must be worrying many of those called to submit to the RDTs.

[3] Publicizing source and costs of the test kits. Councilor Alvin Dizon said the mayor still has to ask for the appropriation but VM Rama said the P30 million cost of the test kits will be paide from the P1 billion earlier set aside for the emergency. Many Cebuanos are wary about emergencies, which in the past enabled corruption that could have been avoided with some transparency even in times of crisis.

Quarantine not immediate

A graphic explanation of what will happen to those found positive during the rapid test will banish some of the fear among the populace. A rule of thumb on the process, which even the experts say is not entirely without flaw, will help. That must include the difference between the rapid tests and the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, how each is done and what each is intended for. The "Balik Buhay" project is a combination of both.

The positives, the experts tell us, are not immediately whisked away and quarantined.

A positive in RDT but a negative in PCR test is presumed okay to work. A positive in RDT and a positive in PCR is infectious and will be isolated.

A negative in RDT but positive in PCR is infectious and quarantined. A negative in RDT and a negative in PCR is susceptible to infection; physical distancing and other restrictions are advised.

Basis for decisions

If doubts persist, ask DOH experts, who have the greater burden of selling the method of the project, not the mayor and the councilors.

Politicians and scientists though are agreed on one thing: decision makers need some basis which business can reopen and where and which individuals can resume working or staying out.


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