Local governments take cautious transition to ‘new normal’

LOCAL leaders whose areas have been declared under low or moderate threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) feel the pressure of ensuring stricter implementation of guidelines as they prepare to relax restrictions under the “new normal” by May 1.

Governor Manuel N. Mamba of Cagayan, where there have been no new COVID-19 cases for the past three weeks and the 14 confirmed patients have already recovered, said they will need to be stricter at checkpoints, the observance of physical distancing, and wearing of face mask.

In a statement over the weekend, Mr. Mamba said the capital Tuguegarao City, which is also the regional center of Cagayan Valley, is particularly crucial.

“Anything could happen in Tuguegarao. Let us treat Tuguegarao City differently in this time of crisis,” he said.

The governor met with the city’s officials Saturday to discuss how they can protect the province against a potential new wave of COVID-19 cases alongside the partial reopening of businesses and government offices.

Cagayan Valley recorded three new COVID-19 patients on April 25, one from Nueva Vizcaya, and two in Santiago City, Isabela.

The region is aiming to improve its testing capacity with the accreditation of the Cagayan Valley Medical Center, located in Tuguegarao, and the Southern Isabela Medical Center as COVID-19 subnational laboratories.

The facilities were checked by representatives from the World Health Organization, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, and Department of Health last week and are awaiting assessment results.

In Bohol, which has maintained a COVID-free status after one Chinese tourist tested positive in January and has since recovered and left, Governor Arthur C. Yap reminded residents that the threat of the virus will be long-term.

“We must live with the rules of the ‘new norm’… we must accept that COVID-19 will be with us for years and that we must learn to ‘live’ with it, and not to ‘die’ with it,” he said in a press briefing Friday after the national government announced that the island province will be among those that can ease rules by May 1.

One of the main concerns that the province will need to strengthen is rapid testing and strict quarantine rules for the “thousands” of Boholanos who want to return home, especially displaced workers from other parts of the country and overseas, Mr. Yap said.

The governor also met last week with the business sector to map out an economic plan that will “no longer be dependent on tourism alone.”

“Agriculture and small businesses offer a more inclusive economy,” he said.

Mayor Jerry P. Treñas of Iloilo City, which was already preparing to ease restrictions before the national government’s decision Friday to place it among high-risk areas and must remain under strict quarantine protocols, said they are ready either way.

“We are ready whatever the recommendation of IATF (inter-agency task force) is. If they will extend the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), we are okay with it, and if not, we are ready,” he said on Friday.

In Caraga, the region with the lowest COVID-19 patients at three, including one who already recovered, preparations are underway for a more massive rapid testing for a more immediate isolation efforts.

Mayor Ronnie Vicente C. Lagnada of Butuan City, the regional center and where all the COVID-19 patients come from, said the top item on their wish list is the acquisition of a polymerase chain reaction or PCR machine for an accredited laboratory in the region so they can immediately confirm the results of the rapid test.

Agusan del Norte Governor Dale B. Corvera, chair of the region’s One Caraga Shield against COVID-19, said the national task force has expressed support for the establishment of laboratories at the region’s two referral hospitals.

On the economy, Mr. Lagnada said the regional body met last week on measures for the reopening of industries that have shut down.

Caraga’s economy is mainly driven by agro-forestry, mining, and agricultural production along with high-value crop processing for export.

Mr. Lagnada said, “We are doing the planning now, we have proposals from the different sectors… on the rules, like social distancing, regular testing… This will be a new normal.” — Marifi S. Jara and Emme Rose S. Santiagudo