By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators on Saturday called on the government to implement stronger and more proactive measures against the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“We need stricter quarantine measures, and we need protocols not only in our hospitals, but also in places where COVID-19 has been discovered to spread, such as the workplaces and areas visited by these patients with confirmed cases,” Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said in statement issued a day after the Department of Heath (DOH) announced that two Filipinos were confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus.
Zubiri complained seeing a footage of San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora inspecting the Greenhills area — where one of the COVID-19 patients reportedly frequented — without protective hazmat gear and surrounded by people, “which could have placed them in danger.”
“What are the protocols for this? This is a place that the patient has been known to frequent. Surely it needs to be cordoned off and cleared of people, and anyone who needs to go there must be fully protected and the area fully disinfected,” he said, saying the same for the places visited by the other infected patient.
Zubiri said: “We cannot afford to have a slow and reactive government response to COVID-19. I am urging a more proactive approach from our agencies and local governments. We don’t want to create panic amongst our people but that was the initial complacency on countries like Iran, South Korea and Italy and now they have thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths.”
The Senate leader also appealed to the DOH to distribute the testing kits to hospitals to immediately test patients who show symptoms of cough and colds.
“I don’t think this is excessive. Let’s not be complacent,” Zubiri said.
Sen. Joel Villanueva shared the belief that the new cases of COVID-19 indicate a local transmission of the virus. The DOH said Friday that one of the two patients had no travel history abroad and regularly visited a prayer hall in Greenhills.
“We have missed some opportunities during the initial spread of the virus when we did not immediately control the influx of travelers from countries with high incidence of infection. In fact, they continue to arrive up to now,” he said in a separate statement.
While he recognizes the authority of the DOH in containing the disease, Villanueva said: “All we ask from the agency is that they should be forthcoming with timely, transparent disclosures on cases. There should be no cover ups.”
“Our country already suffers from the malady of misinformation long before this disease began. The remedy is correct, honest, transparent disclosures,” he added.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also issued a similar call to the DOH, which announced the two new cases of COVID-19 in the country following reports of foreigners testing positive for the disease after traveling in the Philippines.
“Let’s not give the public a false sense of security. Undetected local transmission is rapid & dangerous. DOH needs to be hawk-eyed and transparent every step of the way,” Hontiveros tweeted.
“Detection and containment will improve if our community health surveillance and monitoring also improve,” she also wrote.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said he cannot the blame the public for being more worried after the disclosure of the new cases.
In an interview over DWIZ radio Saturday, he expressed content with how the DOH is handling the public health issue, saying he thinks it is “doing everything it should.”
He maintained, though, that concerned agencies in the executive department should be prepared in providing for the people’s needs to contain the disease.
“Basta ang importante, ang lahat ng pangangailangan ay handang ibigay ng executive department,” Sotto said. (What’s important is that the executive department is ready to give everything needed.)
The two new cases brings the total of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the Philippines to five, the initial three being Chinese nationals who came from virus-stricken Wuhan, China.