By Jel Santos and Hanah Tabios
The Department of Health (DOH) revealed on Tuesday nine more coronavirus dis- ease (COVID-19) cases, rais-
ing the total number to 33.
The new virus cases were disclosed as the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said that it is prepared to enforce a lockdown in Metro Manila in the event the DOH raises the COVID-19 alert level to Code Red-Sublevel 2, Secretary Eduardo Año said.
“We are prepared if there would be a lockdown. We have the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to help the LGUs as much as possible because we really need to contain this. That is the wisdom,” Año said in an ambush interview after the Metro Manila Council (MMC) meeting at Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) headquarters on Tuesday.
Code Red-Sublevel 2 means that there is a continuous transmission. Currently, the country is placed by the DOH under the Code Red-Sublevel 1 after the agency confirmed the first local transmission of COVID-19.
As of press time Tuesday, the DOH was still holding a media briefing on the new COVID-19 cases.
“If there is transmission, the best that we can do is really stop the spread of the virus, but how? By ensuring that there is no mass gathering or probably we will impose the lockdown for 14 days. Kasi ‘yun ang incubation time ng virus so with that matitigil mo ‘yung activity ma-pre-prevent mo ‘yung pag-spread,” Año added.
“The size of the area for community lockdown will depend on the affectations. Movement will be strictly restricted because the purpose is to contain the virus. The IATF EID (Inter- Agency Task Force on Emerging Infec- tious Diseases) will come up with the protocol containing specific details before the issuance of a lockdown order,” Año said.
Año said there are various types of lockdown that can be implemented once the Sublevel 2 is raised by the DOH.
MMDA General Manager Jose Arturo Garcia said that all the Metro Manila mayors agree with the idea of lockdown if it becomes Code Red-Sublevel 2.
“Our mayors do not have strong apprehension on the lockdown. All our mayors are united on this,” he said in Filipino when asked by reporters.
Garcia said there are two types of lockdown, citing Italy’s lockdown of a region, and Wuhan, China’s “home lockdown.”
The MMDA general manager affirmed Año’s statement and said that the government is ready to impose a lockdown should the situation call for it after March 14.
“Of course, [ang] gobyerno nakaready ‘yan kung ano man ang lalabas after March 14, titingnan natin if mag-spread ito or kayang i-contain (Of course, the government is prepared for that if whatever will happen after March 14, we will check if it will spread or we could contain it),” Garcia told the media when pressed over the possible lockdown.
Makati City Mayor Abigail “Abby” Binay thinks that imposing a lockdown is “an extreme measure.” “Wala pa tayo doon (We are not yet there),” she said.
For Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro, he said he is okay with the idea of lockdown “if it is necessary.”
“If necessary, we think we should take that into serious consideration. The lockdown [ay] maaring hindi sa buong Metro Manila, maaring isang barangay, maaring isang siyudad not necessarily to paralyze whole Metro Manila tukuyin lang nang mabuti at magkaroon ng mas maayos na infor- mation kung ilan talaga infected at kung saan talaga,” he told reporters.
Asked on his take on the possible lockdown in Metro Manila, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto said “it depends on how the situation will progress. We must react proportionately and appropriately.”
Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian believes that situation of the country now is uncharted territory and they have to “heed the direction set forth by experts in the DOH when making crucial governance decisions.”
FDA OKs local test kits
Meanwhile, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of test kits developed by Filipino scientists to aid in the immediate diagnosis of COVID-19.
The test kits were developed by local experts at the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP- NIH), and funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
“The increasing number of reported COVID-19 cases will require immediate diagnosis and monitoring. This will provide our laboratories with technological reinforcement to accommodate the growing number of patients to be tested and aid in early screening of positive cases,” FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo said in a statement released Tuesday.
The approval came after the DOH raised Code Red-Sublevel 1 alert.
President Duterte has also declared a State of Public Health Emergency amid the rise of coronavirus cases.
In an interview, the FDA official said the testing kit is not yet approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) but assured that it is “accurate” in giving results.
“Nung nakita naman natin, sinuri natin at talagang very accurate yung test pero meron naman tayong condition na pag ginamit nila ito, kailangan yung mga test result magkakaroon din ng genetic sequencing dito sa Philippine Genome Center (When we reviewed it, the test showed that it’s accurate. But we still have a condition that the test result should have a genetic sequenc- ing at the Philippine Genome Center),” said Domingo.
Domingo said the technology will be used for field testing, coupled with gene sequencing at the Philippine Genome Center, which could provide greater access to a less costly diagnostic procedure.
“Makakatulong yun para ma-trace kung saan nanggaling yung virus. Yung virus as it travels all over, nagkakaroon sya ng mga konti-konting pagbabago. So halimbawa, nakita mo yung genetic sequencing ng virus – malalaman mo kung nanggaling sa Japan, or China, or nanggaling sa Taiwan halimbawa or nanggaling sa ibang lugar (It can help in
tracing where the virus came from. The virus, as it travels all over, it changes a bit. For example, if you see the genetic sequencing of the virus – you will know if it came from Japan, or China, or Tai- wan, or from other areas),” he said.
Domingo said that the testing kit can produce the result after about two hours.
To note, it takes 24 to 48 hours before the result comes out in the testing process of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa City.
Domingo said that the test kits are expected to be available at the UP-NIH and the Philippine General Hospital.
“They will be able to set it up, then train people, and start testing within a week,” he said.
Aside from this move, the DOH recently said that five other laboratories have already been accredited to test samples of COVID-19, aside from the RITM.
“The five sub-national labs are being provided capacity to do test completed their training on COVID identification and the proficiency test and all of them passed,” said RITM Director Celia Carlos in a previous press conference, adding that “they could start any moment from now” to do the testing.
The five laboratories are San Lazaro Hospital and Lung Center of the Philip- pines in Manila; Baguio General Hos- pital and Medical Center in Northern Luzon; Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in the Visayas region; and Southern Philippines Medical Center in Mindanao.
“The FDA maintains its mandate in ensuring the safety and efficacy of products and devices to protect public health, and commits to cooperate with all agencies in ensuring a prompt response to this global crisis,” he added.
With the increasing number of cases, President Duterte ordered on Monday a week-long suspension of classes in Metro Manila as a measure to prevent the spread of the virus.
Media’s help sought Meanwhile, Senator Nancy Binay on Tuesday urged major broadcast networks to collaborate and share their artists to work together on initiatives in creating awareness surrounding COVID-19.
With the help of their mother studios, Binay said Filipino showbiz personalities can help in leading the campaign in increasing public health awareness, and encourage their fans to help contain the dreaded virus.
The senator noted many people are now holed up in their homes and television, and social media are now practically the most effective medium in creating an impact on people because of its wider reach.
“Yung mga major television net- works tulad ng ABS-CBN, GMA-7, TV5, and even faith-based networks, can work together and come up with infomercials of their talents or artists sharing a common mission that would positively impact 100 million lives,” Binay said.
She also said that with the guidance of the DOH, these networks can help in improving the public’s understanding of the virus by airing omnibus infomercials on what people can do in the fight against COVID-19.
Even social media influencers and TV celebrities can come on board to help even in their own little ways as long as they seek guidance from health specialists on the content.
“They could help in raising awareness and make a bigger impact with a simple blog, vlog or DIY video,” Binay pointed out.
“Influencers can also maximize their social media accounts and rally support from their fan base,” she said. (With reports from Analou de Vera, Dhel Nazario, and Hannah L. Torregoza)