(UPDATED) THE Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) called Saturday, August 1, for a two-week enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila to be used as a “time-out to refine our pandemic control strategies.”
This came after the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on July 31 placed the National Capital Region (NCR) and Calabarzon, among other areas in the country, under general community quarantine (GCQ) despite the rising number of coronavirus infections.
The Department of Health (DOH) reported on Friday, July 31, 4,063 additional cases of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), bringing the country’s total to 93,354. More than half of the new cases, or 2,267, were from the NCR.
Citing hospitals, as well as temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMFs) already close to being overwhelmed, the PCP said the country needs a consolidated and definitive plan of action, "as we are waging a losing battle against Covid-19."
It raised concerns on hospital workforce deficiency, failure of case finding and isolation, failure of contact tracing and quarantine, transportation safety, workplace safety, public compliance with self-protection, and social amelioration.
"Healthcare workers are united in sounding off a distress signal to the nation: our healthcare system has been overwhelmed," said PCP president Dr. Mario Panaligan in a virtual press conference.
"Hence, we, as your healthcare frontliners call on our national government to return Mega Manila to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for a period of two weeks, from August 1 to 15," he added.
The call was ably supported by nearly 70 national and local medical societies.
Panaligan said the timeout is necessary as healthcare workers are already falling ill, as they take care of patients while battling the fear and anxiety Covid-19 brings.
Other healthcare workers, he added, are already burnt out with the seemingly endless number of patients trooping to hospitals for emergency care and admission.
"The health sector cannot hold the line for much longer. Our healthcare workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised," the group said.
"In the end, winning the war against Covid-19 relies heavily on being able to keep our health system capacitated to address the needs of all Filipinos," it added.
Earlier in the week, the DOH reported that both medical facilities and large-scale TTMFs are already in the "warning zone" in terms of bed capacity, which means they are already close to being overwhelmed.
The PCP said that during the two-week timeout, the government can have the opportunity to draw up a better, consolidated, and definitive plan s
of action against Covid-19.
Panaligan said the two-week period will allow the National Government to effectively cascade the contact tracing and quarantine protocols to all community leaders, health officers, and local authorities and be strictly enforced.
He also said the period can provide everyone to shift to swab testing, instead of the inappropriate rapid antibody tests, in its bid to identify cases of Covid-19.
The period can be used to create prompt and rapid solutions with long-term impact in the aspect of transportation, such as service contracting, pop-up bicycle lanes, and pedestrian lanes, he added.
Malacañang on Saturday, August 1, defended the IATF and President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to keep Metro Manila and Calabarzon under GCQ.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement that the GCQ classification of these two areas has been a subject of debate among members of the IATF.
“The Palace understands the delicate balancing act between public health and the economic health of the nation given the Metro Manila and Calabarzon make up 67 percent of our economy,” Roque said.
He added that the strict local community quarantine has “already served its purpose.”
"We need to intensify other strategies," he said. "It is for this reason that the local government units of Metro Manila have been directed to implement a strict localized lockdown or enhanced community quarantine in barangays where 80 percent of cases are located."
Roque said local government units must now implement other strategies, such as the stringent enforcement of minimum public health standards, massive targeted testing, intensified tracing, quarantine of close contacts, and strict adherence to the implementation of "Oplan Kalinga" for isolation of confirmed cases.
“Community quarantine alone, we repeat is an insufficient response in controlling Covid-19,” he said.
“We are scaling up hospital capacity by increasing allocation of Covid-dedicated beds while hiring more doctors, nurses, and medical personnel. We are also engaging the community through risk communication, social mobilization, and advocacy to observe the minimum public health standards of wearing a mask,” he added.
The spokesperson said Malacañang welcomes inputs and comments from concerned stakeholders.
“We will include them in future IATF meetings,” he added.
The PCP, in its letter to Duterte, also appealed for reconsideration of the move to re-open several business establishments that were previously closed due to the community quarantine.
“We also appeal to your good offices to reconsider the pronouncement of the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the approval to reopen businesses such as gyms, tutorial services, review centers, internet cafes, pet grooming services, and drive-in cinemas,” the group said.
Panaligan said the period will allow government agencies to provide the necessary support for those whose livelihood will be affected by the proposed timeout.
Among those that supported the letter penned by Panaligan are the Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Pediatric Society Inc., Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Inc., Philippine Heart Association, Philippine College of Chest Physicians, Philippine College of Geriatric Medicine, and Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians.
Placed under GCQ from August 1 to 15 are Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, Minglanilla, Consolacion and Zamboanga City.
The rest of the country is now under modified general community quarantine.
The DOH, for its part, said it is one with medical frontliners in making sacrifices and facing the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
"We support the call of our frontliners to ensure appropriate implementation of community quarantines to ensure the protection of our health workers," it said in a statement.
"Rest assured that DOH is leading in working together with the other agencies in supporting the HCWs and our plight during this situation," it added.
The health department also said it remains open to hold dialogues and discussions with the different medical societies in coming up with solutions to the ongoing health crisis.
"We are currently in dialogue with our medical frontliners to discuss the best steps forward," said the DOH. (Jove Moya/HDT/SunStar Philippines)