BACOLOD CITY - Local government units (LGUs) here and in Negros Occidental are asking the National Inter-Agency Task Force (NIATF) to implement their own health protocols for returning locally stranded individuals (LSIs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia appealed to the NIATF and the National Task Force (NTF) Against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to respect their own protocols, as they cannot over-emphasize the reality that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation here was worsening.
Leonardia said OFWs and LSIs coming home to Bacolod need to be facility-quarantined, and swab-tested before they are allowed to finally proceed to their respective homes.
Leonardia added that returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and LSIs may only be discharged from quarantine if they yield negative results from reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests even before the end of the 14-day quarantine period, or when they remain asymptomatic after the two-week quarantine.
The mayor also cited previous experiences of the city government when it accepted ROFs and LSIs, who already tested negative several days before their trips home, only to find out later that many of them still tested positive for the virus when they were re-swabbed upon arrival here.
“Re-swabbing upon their arrival here will, thus, be more prudent and safer for the families of these returning residents and the general community,” he added.
Leonardia was reacting to a directive of the NTF Order dated August 19, mandating that arriving ROFs be brought directly to their homes upon their arrival at the airport or seaport, and shall no longer be subjected to local health protocols by the receiving LGU, presumably because these ROFs have already tested negative for coronavirus at their last stop before embarking on the final leg of their trip home.
But Leonardia said the NIATF, for its part, also issued Resolution No. 67 dated August 31, which requires the “immediate facility-based quarantine or isolation of all returning citizens, suspect, and probable cases”.
The local chief executive said that between the two national directives, the city government will have to comply with NIATF Resolution No. 67 as this was “congruent with our present health protocols and will provide greater protection for our people.”
However, he said that this was not to say that the city government could presently accommodate any number of returning residents as its quarantine facilities are also limited.
“We need the help of the national government to ease our burdens and ensure a greater measure of protection for our people,” he added.
Leonardia wrote to the chairpersons of the Western Visayas Regional Inter-Agency Task Force (WVRIATF) and Western Visayas Regional Task Force (WVRTF) in appealing that the regional agencies issue a “favorable endorsement” of Bacolod’s urgent appeals to the National IATF, one of which is to allow it to continue implementing its own local health protocols on returning residents.
Also, the seven hospitals in the city cannot take in more than 165 “moderate” to “severe” COVID cases at any one time.
Thus, his second appeal before the NIATF was to give the LGUs advance two-day notice before any boat or plane trip with returning residents is scheduled to arrive so that they could assess if they have room to put them under quarantine.
His third appeal was for the grant of an additional moratorium until September 30 for more trips home of returning residents.
As of September 6, the city has a total of 1,866 COVID-19 cases, including 27 deaths and 693 recoveries.
Meanwhile, Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, in a letter addressed to the Regional Task Force (RTF) against COVID-19, said the province and the 31 cities and municipalities manifested their stand that all ROFs must be tested and quarantined at the place of their final destination.
“Subjecting them to tests in Manila will be a waste of effort, time, and valuable resources as we have proven through experience that those who tested negative in Manila may be infected in transit to the provinces and test positive afterwards,” the governor added.
Thus, Lacson suggested that swabbing be done in the province and quarantine at the LGU as part of the integration to the community.
Although they understand the utmost measures implemented by the national government to limit if not stop the spread of the virus, it is suggested that the testing and isolation before integration should be done at the LGU level as it gives confidence to the community to receive their constituents, Lacson said.
This will also help in minimizing the cost of testing and quarantine cost for OFWs, he added.
As of September 5, the province has a total of 1,401 COVID cases, with 12 deaths and 666 recoveries.