SEVERAL LOCAL governments around the country — mostly major cities, provinces, and even some municipalities — have declared a community quarantine to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the new coronavirus that has infected 140 Filipinos as of March 15.
A community quarantine, by and large, means a restriction on the entry of people within their localities. The movement of goods across local borders will continue while all business and government operations will be maintained alongside the observance of set health protocols.
Such a move is actually a step ahead of guidelines issued by the Department of Health (DoH) and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19, but local officials are choosing to err on the side of caution.
“(T)here is a need immediately to be aggressive and proactive on the impending spread of COVID-19 in Davao Region,” reads a joint statement issued on March 15 by Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio of Davao City and Mayor Allan L. Rellon of Tagum City, the capital of Davao del Norte province.
The statement declares a “partial lockdown on all our entry and exit points” effective 7 p.m. Sunday.
Iloilo Governor Arthur R. Defensor Jr., who declared travel restrictions within the entire province from March 17 to April 14, said on Sunday, “Because of the seriousness of this situation, there is a need to raise the level of quarantine procedures and disease control prevention measures.”
Based on IATF’s Resolution 11, a localized community quarantine may be declared if there are “at least two positive cases” within either a barangay, city or municipality, or province.
There is no confirmed COVID-19 case so far in Iloilo province and the rest of the Western Visayas Region, while there is only one confirmed case in Davao Region, a patient admitted in a hospital in Tagum City.
The DoH guidelines for contact tracing also recommend “broad community containment measures” only after there is “evidence of sustained community transmission in a particular area.”
At this point, contact tracing would already be terminated.
But the DoH-Davao Region office assured that contact tracing procedures are ongoing for the Tagum case despite the community quarantine.
“DoH is now closely coordinating with the concerned Local Government Unit (LGU) and the hospital where the patient is admitted, for concerted actions on identifying persons who had interaction with the confirmed case, strengthening infection prevention and control protocols and for further developments arising from this health event,” DoH-Davao said in a statement.
Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said even with over 100 COVID-19 cases in the country, mostly within the National Capital Region (NCR), contact tracing will continue as the situation is not yet considered an “epidemic surge.”
“The transmission is not as many… so we can still do close contact tracing,” Mr. Duque told BusinessWorld in a phone interview on March 15.
Mr. Duque said at least nine teams are deployed for contact tracing in the NCR, but more teams can be tapped if needed because of the “dynamic situation.”
In other LGUs, response teams at the barangay level, the smallest administrative unit of government, have been activated not just for contact tracing but to monitor recent arrivals per household.
In Cagayan de Oro, one of the few remaining major cities that has yet to declare travel restrictions, Mayor Oscar S. Moreno has called on people to “voluntarily undergo self-quarantine” for 14 days while directing village teams to go door-to-door.
“When a Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) visits you, please be honest and disclose important details especially if you have a history of travel,” the city government said in an advisory.
The first COVID-19 case recorded in Mindanao was a patient from Lanao del Sur who was brought to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center located in Cagayan de Oro.
Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia of Cebu, which has the country’s second busiest airport, declared a community quarantine over the weekend — a lockdown, for all domestic land, sea, and air transport, except for cargo, for 30 days starting March 17.
“We are not prohibiting Cebuanos to go out of Cebu, but if they go out, they will not be able to come back in 30 days,” she said in a live-streamed media conference.
There is no confirmed COVID-19 case in Cebu as of March 15.
“We are looking at a full 30-day mitigation period to ensure that we shall be able to prevent the entry, and hopefully, keep out the corona (virus),” she said.
Bohol Governor Arthur C. Yap, the first among provincial chiefs to declare a community quarantine, first met with city and towns mayors before issuing the order on March 13.
As of March 15, the island province was free from COVID-19.
In a press conference on March 13 announcing the community quarantine, Mr. Yap said: “Are you sure that this disease will not come to Bohol? If it comes, are we ready?” — Marifi S. Jara with Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Carmelito Q. Francisco, and Emme Rose S. Santiagudo