CEBU’S controversial Covid-19 policies work.
In fact, the “swab-upon-arrival” policy initiated by Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia for returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) is not the first time Cebuanos have adopted protocol that are not totally aligned with existing guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Illnesses.
Thus said a high-ranking government official in the Visayas who is privy to decision making concerning Cebu.
In a statement sent to SunStar Cebu, the government source said the policies Cebu has implemented, including the swab-upon-arrival policy, is based both on science and on actual on-the-ground data and context.
While vocal about his support for Cebu’s Covid policies, the official asked SunStar Cebu to withhold his name.
He said there had been times when Cebu’s Covid-19 policies differed from those enforced by the IATF such as the policy of conducting contact tracing only on symptomatic first generation individuals.
While IATF guidelines dictate that only symptomatic first generation individuals should be tested, in Cebu, both asymptomatic and symptomatic first generation individuals are tested.
“Present IATF guidelines require that upon contact tracing, only symptomatic first generation individuals should be tested.
Meaning, if you are a first generation contact-traced individual, but you do not exhibit any symptoms, no need to test you, and you are free to go your merry way, not knowing if you are positive or not. In Cebu, our stand is to test all first generation individuals, regardless of whether asymptomatic or symptomatic. Once confirmed positive, you need to be isolated, even if asymptomatic, for the prescribed period,” the government official said.
Another policy that both IATF and Cebu implement differently is the isolation of confirmed positive patients.
Based on present IATF guidelines, confirmed Covid-19 positive patients would only need to undergo isolation in their own homes with no need for proper verification by the authorities or regular medical visits.
In Cebu, except for very special circumstances and with the specific concurrence of a trained medical specialist, all confirmed Covid-19 positive patients are extracted and isolated in a proper isolation facility, with adequate trained healthcare professionals monitoring you and with a pre-arranged referral system to a Hospital should your symptoms turn severe, the official said.
“If the individual does not wish to be isolated in a TTMF (for free), they can choose to go to a Isolation Hotel (at their own expense) or to a Hospital (if moderate to severe symptoms, also at their own expense),” he added.
Other regions, including the National Capital Region, have also implemented these policies.
The official believes Cebu’s quarantine and testing policies have served Cebuanos well, especially that Cebu has been under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) for 10 months.
“Since then, our respective Cebu LGUs and EOCs have performed marvelously and responsibly well, and the track record of 10 straight months (and counting) of MGCQ in the entire Cebu is a testimony that something right must be working here in Cebu,” he added.
He also urged those criticizing local officials over the swab-upon-arrival policy to “take a step back” and “look at the discussion with fresh eyes and open hearts.”
Meanwhile, member-agencies of the National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19, including the police and military, were directed to “ensure strict adherence” to existing arrival protocols for international travelers in all ports as part of efforts to prevent the entry of more Covid-19 cases with highly transmissible variants.
In Resolution No. 122 approved during its meeting Thursday, June 17, 2021, the IATF reiterated the strict enforcement of existing testing and quarantine protocols for inbound international travelers in all ports of the country, regardless of any specific protocol that may be issued by the local government units (LGUs) to the contrary.
The order was directed at the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Health and the Bureau of Quarantine, Department of Tourism, Department of Transportation, Department of Labor and Employment and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs).
Also covered by the order are regional offices and attached agencies of the national government agencies mentioned.
The NTF implements the government’s national action plan against the coronavirus disease pandemic which is based on policies recommended by the IATF to the President.
The resolution was passed two days after Garcia, during a Senate hearing on June 15, invited IATF experts to a meeting with the Cebu Provincial Board to discuss the protocols.
On the same day, she directed local officials to continue implementing Cebu’s testing and quarantine protocols despite a Malacañang statement saying President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to enforce the IATF protocols in Cebu.
IATF arrival protocols
The IATF arrival protocols, as contained in its Resolution 114, require an arriving international passenger to go into facility-based quarantine for 10 days and undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for Sars-CoV-2 on the seventh day.
Even with a negative test result, the passenger must complete 10 days in facility-based quarantine and spend another four days on home quarantine.
Exempted from this rule effective June 22 are individuals who were fully vaccinated in the Philippines.
They will go into facility-based quarantine for only seven days and will undergo a swab test only if they develop Covid-19 symptoms. Otherwise, they will be released and will be urged to self-monitor.
Those found positive for the virus will have to comply with DOH protocols for Covid-19 patients.
DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the latest IATF resolution reiterated that these protocols must be enforced nationwide. / Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines