Thursday, October 28, 2021

Cebuano doctors back IATF arrival policies

SunStar File

A GROUP of Cebuano doctors has expressed full support for the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) policy for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) mandating a 10-day facility-based quarantine followed by four-day home quarantine and swabbing on the seventh day from arrival.

On the other hand, seafarers’ groups have appealed to the IATF to adopt Cebu’s policy for OFWs and ROFs.

A copy of the Cebuano doctors’ manifesto supporting the IATF policy was sent to SunStar Cebu by a highly respected Cebuano doctor who asked not to be identified.

The group called itself the “Concerned Doctors of Cebu.”

The statement which did not bear any signatures said Cebuano doctors “stand in solidarity” with the IATF’s medical experts, particularly members of its technical working group.

It also described the swab-upon-arrival policy of the Cebu Provincial Government as “lax.”

The group said Cebuano doctors “fully support” the IATF’s arrival protocol regarding travelers from outside the Philippines which is “evidence-based.”

“The Philippines is under a national state of public health emergency. The issue in contention is neither political nor legal, it is medical. The only experts who should be given the final say on what arrival protocols to implement are those in the medical field,” the group said.

The group said harm reduction measures against Covid-19 must be strictly implemented in Cebu due to its strategic location as a gateway to the rest of the Visayas and Mindanao.

“Our healthcare system is extremely fragile. Even first-world countries, such as the USA and several countries in the European Union, were overwhelmed by Covid-19 surges,” read the statement.

“With the current spread of Sars-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) especially the Delta (Indian) variant that overwhelmed India and has become the predominant variant in the UK, Cebu and the rest of the Philippines cannot afford to be complacent, ignoring evidene-based harm reduction measures,” the statement added.

“If countries like our neigboring Singapore and Hongkong-SAR extended their quarantine durations to twenty-one (21) days and do multiple swabs with the emergence of VOCs even if they have casecounts that have always been lower than ours, then why is Cebu instead dangerously loosening protocols???” the group asked.

The group claimed that some OFWs and ROFs who live in Luzon took advantage of Cebu’s “lax” arrival protocol to enter the country through the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

“Cebu has an abundance of well-informed and highly-proficient medical doctors and we want our stand, the one that matters the most during a pandemic, to be heard and heeded,” the group added.

Seafarers’ appeal

Meanwhile, seafarers’ groups appealed to the IATF to adopt Cebu’s policy for OFWs and ROFs.

In a letter, the Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines (ISP), Mariners’ and Allied Transport Employees Union (MATEU), Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SONAME) and ANGKLA Partylist said Cebu’s swab-upon-arrival policy was “more practical and responsive to the needs of the times,” and eases the burden of returning seafarers.

Seafarers comprise 25 percent of the global maritime workforce and are recognized as essential workers by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“Our returning seafarers had already been out on the sea for an extended period of time, even way beyond the expiration of their employment contracts. This is due to the limited capacity to transfer them from their ships to their home countries,” the groups said.

They said the 10-day facility-based quarantine upon arrival mandated by the IATF places them in a more difficult situation as opposed to when they are immediately tested upon arrival which allows them to go home to their families at once upon getting a negative result.

They described Cebu’s swab and quarantine rules as “more attuned with acceptable protocols that health organizations throughout the world adhere to.”

On March 30, 2021, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia issued Executive Order 17 that mandates the implementation of the swab-upon-arrival policy.

Under this policy, OFWs and ROFs arriving in Cebu from abroad are tested upon arrival at the MCIA for Covid-19. While waiting for the results, they stay in accredited quarantine hotels for only two to three days. If they test negative, they are allowed to go home.

Garcia’s order was later adopted into a local law through Provincial Ordinance 2021-04.

The ordinance was amended last June 11 so that after release from the quarantine hotel, OFWs and ROFs now undergo the remainder of the IATF-mandated 14-day quarantine at home or in a facility, during which they are swabbed again on the seventh day to comply with the IATF directive.

The seafarer groups also backed the call of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter to “reconcile and harmonize the policies, rules, regulations and procedures as regards arriving OFWs and ROFs” by adopting Garcia’s swab policy.

“Our returning seafarers are already subjected to strict tests in the respective countries where they come from before they are sent to the Philippines. They are closely monitored and their body temperatures are recorded every day while onboard the vessels. Proper health protocols are also strictly observed and implemented while in ports to prevent the transfer of the dreaded Covid-19 virus,” the seafarers’ groups said.

Duque to visit

The Department of Health (DOH) has vowed to attend a session of the Cebu Provincial Board and to further study Cebu’s Covid-19 regulations.

“Our Secretary (Francisco Duque III) has committed to visiting Region 7 and Cebu this week or next week to see firsthand these best practices,” said DOH Undersecretary Alethea de Guzman.

“The argument is really not about when we are testing. Is it on the first, the fifth or on the seventh day. Our experts are stating the need for strict quarantine,” she said.

“We see border control as one of the most effective first lines of defense to prevent the entry of these variants of concern. At least we can minimize their entry,” De Guzman added.

DOH 7 chief pathologist and spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said they continue to support the governor’s policies on arrivals.

“It will only take one of these OFWs to carry it and transmit it to a larger population. But again as I say, it is our containment measure, our policy, our emergency response, our community response as a whole which we do have in Cebu. That is why we are pushing for our protocol,” Loreche said.

“That’s the way of the virus. Let us not put in all of these stringent and suffocating rules because we are afraid to think outside of the box,” she added. / ANV, PR, NRC


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