Faster Covid testing in Cebu soon

‘FIRST ADOPTED COUPLE’. Ret. Gen. Melquiades Feliciano, chief implementer of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Visayas, and his wife, Mia, a nurse, were honored by the Cebu City Council for their help in managing the city’s Covid-19 crisis. (Romayne Danielle Rivera)

AFTER seeing a decline in the number of Covid-19 cases in Cebu City during the last quarter of 2020, a rising trend in active cases has again been noted since the start of January 2021.

From 93 remaining active cases in the city on Dec. 20, 2020, the number rose to 689 a month later, after the Department of Health (DOH) 7 logged 60 more Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

The DOH 7 has urged all hospitals that had tapered down their operations, to regain and expand their Covid-19 care capacity.

SunStar Cebu talked with Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Visayas chief implementer Ret. Gen. Melquiades Feliciano on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Here are excerpts of that exclusive interview.

SunStar: How do you see the Covid-19 situation in Cebu City?

Feliciano: It’s a slight rise in the number of cases and this is expected. In fact, it happened in most of the places, in the key cities, even in Metro Manila.

For Cebu, the reasons why it increased were identified by the EOC (Emergency Operations Center). These are the gatherings that happened during the holiday season. There was this drinking session that happened. There were some breach of protocols by some business establishments. There were also parties that happened in some of the hotels and bars. These are the reasons why the number of cases increased.

The good thing about it is that the EOC is able to recognize all these. So the EOC now has its actions. Hopefully, in a few days, this will be addressed.

The index cases will be lowered. And of course, having this continuous aggressive tracing, testing, isolating the positive (individuals) and even the treatment, it will lower the cases in the coming days.

SunStar: With DOH 7 recording additional daily Covid-19 cases in triple digits, what are your projections on the number of cases in Cebu City by the end of January or February?

Feliciano: This is regional data. Ever since, the reckoning area has been Cebu City. As you can see, if the cases in Cebu City increase, the adjacent cities and municipalities in the Province are affected because Cebu City is the (area) of convergence of all. If Cebu City can address this, can mitigate this transmission, it will also affect other areas.

SunStar: At what rate of increase in Covid-19 cases will a lockdown become necessary?

Feliciano: Actually, you don’t have to do that as long as you are able to make that analysis, you have that data on where the transmission is. You will be able to know the behavior. From there, you can act. If you have the specific data, if it’s in these houses that are densely populated, you will just be limited there specifically. You don’t need to have that larger area of locking down. Even at the height of the crisis, I implemented granular lockdowns, but the maximum was only for nine houses.

SunStar: Are you satisfied with the performance of the Cebu City EOC?

Feliciano: Yes, from the start. Because the EOC has its systems and processes established already. It is just that the increase in activities and at the same time the structure was made leaner and so there was an adjustment that was made already by the EOC.

SunStar: Can you compare the situation here in Cebu City to the other EOCs that you visited in the Visayas?

Feliciano: The basis is Cebu City. We went to Bacolod City; we just copied the template and applied it there. Same thing with Pagadian City. But of course, in the course of implementation there were established good practices also. So, we are sharing it back also to Cebu City. It’s always sharing of good practices by the three cities now, but Cebu has been the model of all these cities.

SunStar: Is there something that Cebu City needs to improve?

Feliciano: There are changing situations. So there is a need to adjust. With all these things you learn something new, so you have to adopt to it. For example, when I visited the EOC last Monday, I suggested to make the testing faster by adjusting the schedule of the molecular laboratory and the schedule of the testing of the close contacts so that in 24 hours, an index case is addressed including the testing and the turnaround time. So there is a reduction of one day. They are now trying to implement and develop it because we did it in Bacolod City.

SunStar: What’s your position on vaccination? Do you see it as urgent?

Feliciano: Yes. One of the solutions on how to live a normal life with Covid is to have this vaccination program implemented. But, of course, we cannot specifically say how safe (the vaccines are), but it will help on how to prevent transmission.

SunStar: If you were to decide, who would you prioritize in the vaccinations?

Feliciano: I go with the national (plan). Not everyone will be vaccinated. The frontliners will always be there even after the vaccination is completed. They are always exposed. So they should be given the priority. But of course, it depends on the quantity of the vaccines that the country will get and make available.

SunStar: Have you had initial talks with the Secretary of Health on how to do the mass vaccination?

Feliciano: I have not, but initially, I am taking a process on how to apply the vaccination from the storage to the LGU (local government unit) down to the community. I initially made a structure on how to implement it similar to the intervention programs of the EOC. So there are these identified clusters like cluster for logistics, cluster for cold storage, cluster for vaccination, cluster for registration, cluster for data gathering and cluster for transport.

I have this structure, and I am working it out with the three EOCs: Cebu City, Bacolod City and Pagadian City, so that we can also get input from the ground. Even the business sector volunteered to help. It is an open process and the DOH should see it later on once it is initially drafted for any contribution from the different relevant sectors.

SunStar: The DOH is promoting a campaign to increase public confidence in the vaccination program. What if the priority sectors refuse to be inoculated? What would be the mechanism for such?

Feliciano: It’s always been part of any activity to make people aware of what you will do and make them accept what you will be doing.

There is a big role here on the information and awareness program of the LGU. Whatever vaccine (will be given), they should be informed and get their responses and sentiments so that there will be adjustments on the information drive on what narratives you should be bringing to make people confident.

I am sure these vaccines are effective, and it is just a matter of the right messaging.

SunStar: Are you willing to be vaccinated?

Feliciano: Yeah. I am always willing to be vaccinated because everyone should, in order to set an example.

SunStar: With the rollout of vaccines for frontliners expected in Cebu next month, what vaccine will the National Government give to Cebu?

Feliciano: I do not have any idea. In fact, the Cebu government is still in negotiation on from what pharmaceutical (company) they will be getting the vaccine.

SunStar: If you were to choose, what vaccine would you use?

Feliciano: I’m not an expert but according to what I’ve heard, the Chinese vaccine is good also because it’s been proven in the Asian countries.

SunStar: Will the National Government shoulder the expenses in procuring the vaccine?

Feliciano: The LGUs are allowed to buy their own vaccines and they have allocated funds for that. But the National Government is always there to provide these vaccines for free to everyone.

SunStar: What if the vaccine is later found to have side effects, what’s the recourse of the public or what’s the mechanism for this?

Feliciano: That’s part of the structure that I am proposing. There is this patient monitoring also for those that have adverse effects. They will be monitored by this cluster headed by a medical doctor. There will be a continuous monitoring of these vaccinated individuals.

SunStar: Do you have any reminders for Cebuanos amid this pandemic?

Feliciano: To our fellow Cebuanos, let’s cooperate with the EOC. The Emergency Operations Center can only do so much. Everybody knows now what are these breaches of protocol. Let’s avoid them. This is a shared responsibility. Let’s be mindful of the mininum health protocols. That’s the best vaccine that we can have as of now.

Feliciano and his wife, Mia, a nurse, were in Cebu to be honored by the Cebu City Council as the city’s “first adopted couple.”

Feliciano was appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the IATF’s chief implementer in the Visayas in June 2020 at the height of the surge of cases in Cebu and the rest of the region. His wife also helped him in establishing the EOC in Cebu City.


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