Mass gathering events, insufficient testing may have caused COVID-19 surge in Palawan

Published May 26, 2021, 1:49 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The sudden increase of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Palawan may have been attributed to the mass gathering events that were not monitored and the lack of testing by the local government unit (LGU), an official of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 disclosed Wednesday, May 26.

National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 Spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr. answers questions during the “Laging Handa” virtual press briefing on May 26, 2021. (Screenshot from RTVM livestream)

NTF spokesperson Restituto Padilla Jr., a retired military general, said the task force has already conducted a dialogue with local officials in Puerto Princesa City and Coron to assess the COVID-19 situation in the areas.

“[B]atay sa ating naging konsultasyon sa kanila, maaaring may ilang mga mass gathering na hindi nila natukoy na nagdulot ng ganitong pagtaas (Based on our consultation with them, it is possible that there were certain mass gathering [events] that they did not monitor which cause this surge),” Padilla said in a virtual “Laging Handa” press briefing.

“Ang isa pa ay ‘yong kakulangan ng testing. Kaya nga po sa pagbisita ng NTF, dala-dala na natin ang maraming mass testing kits para magamit nila sa antigen test at saka RT-PCR test (Another one is the insufficient testing. That’s why when the NTF visited the area, we brought many testing kits which they can use for the antigen and RT-PCR testing),” he added.

Palawan is a haven for local and foreign tourists that’s why Padilla said unmonitored mass gatherings and insufficient mass testing are a deadly combo for them: the former as potential super spreader events while the latter as one way to let the virus spread undetected.

“[I]ba’t iba ang klase ng mass gathering na maaring hindi namo-monitor ang pinagmumulan ng mga kasong ito lalo’t lalo na kung may mga sumali na mga dayuhan or ‘yong bumibisita lang sa lugar na iyon na nanggaling sa iba nating mga lugar na mayroong kaso (We have different kinds of mass gathering events that could have caused these infections especially if there are foreigners or visitors from other places with cases),” Padilla said, noting that asymptomatic cases or those who do not exhibit symptoms can still infect others.

“Ang hinaharap nating kalaban dito ay hindi makita at ang pinakamabisang paraan para makita ito ay sa pamamagitan lang ng testing. So ito ‘yong ambag na naibibigay natin lalo na dyan sa Palawan (What we are facing now is an unseen enemy and the most effective way to see them is through testing. So this [giving of test kits] is our way to contribute to the efforts in Palawan),” he added.

Local chief executives in Palawan have attributed the surge of cases to the easing of travel restrictions. Puerto Princesa is placed under the general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions while Coron is under a less restrictive modified GCQ (MGCQ) status until May 31.

Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron said in a television interview over ABS-CBN last May 10 that the Palawan provincial government decided to let go of the RT-PCR testing requirement for visitors when it decided to open domestic tourism back in March.

Meanwhile, Coron Mayor Mario Reyes Jr. reportedly implemented a lockdown in eight of 32 barangays to address the spread of COVID-19 cases.

Data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed there were 9,867 cases in MIMAROPA (Region 4B) as of May 25, with 1,602 cases recorded in Palawan.

Of these, 78 new cases were added on May 25 which brought the total number of active cases in the province to 459. A total of 1,131 persons have recovered from the disease while 12 have died.

With this, Padilla urged local chief executives to continuously enforce the minimum public health standards to address the spike of cases in Palawan.

“Hinihikayat natin lahat ng LGUs na ipagpatuloy na paigtinging ang enforcement side ng ating public health protocols kasi kung hindi tayo tatalima dito, ang pagkalat ng sakit ay siguradong mangyayari (We urge all LGUs to sutain the enforcement side of our public health protocols because if we won’t adhere to these, the spread of the disease will surely happen),” he said.