Managing the coronavirus is uncharted territory for everyone, and the City and the provincial governments are no exception to the challenge. But decisions have to be made and mistakes can happen. The consequences may be trivial, but by the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, they can be disastrous too.
Palawan has so far managed to keep the pandemic at bay. Since the entire Luzon went into lockdown in mid-March, it has had only four confirmed positive cases and one death – a rather small number in the context of the nationwide situation.
After two months of extreme lockdowns and with its numbers looking manageable, Palawan was downgraded to the lowest alert level of moderate general community quarantine. Governor Jose Alvarez even went on a limb to declare the province to be “winning” the war with COVID-19, as he pushed for a gradual reopening of the province including the resumption of commercial flights.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s sudden decision over two weeks ago to immediately repatriate travelers and overseas Filipino workers stranded in Manila and other cities caught many local government units by surprise, many unprepared. In the case of Palawan, the first mercy flight from Manila was dispatched with only a few hours for local health authorities to react.
As the flight load of weary passengers set foot in the tarmac of the city airport, frontliners scrambled to process each individual, following protocols developed for the purpose, including dispatching them to quarantine facilities for a mandatory 14-day strict quarantine.
As more mercy flights and commercial sea vessels arrived, it was evident Palawan was reeling from the pressure of the task. There were reports of overcrowding in quarantine rooms, defeating the whole purpose of physically isolating potential virus carriers.
In one municipality, an account of a repatriate who spoke with Palawan News indicated that they were sharing rooms as much as six persons in a room because there was limited capacity in the facility. In a city quarantine facility, several repatriates claimed they also shared rooms with individuals they did not know.
We’re still approximately halfway through the task of receiving people coming in from other places and posing the potential risk of carrying the virus. The government’s own estimate placed them at around 2,000 more arriving in the next few days and weeks, as regulated commercial flights start to become available this coming week.
Palawan has struggled through the pandemic crisis and is fortunate or was capable enough to contain the problem, which is a relief. The first batch of 86 returnees, mostly OFWs, was released this week from their 14-day quarantine with no issues.
The province and the city have to take stock of the lessons so far learned and put us in a better position to carry on fighting the pandemic in the Palawan front. An additional effort at transparency on the part of the decision-makers, particularly to the Palawan press that is covering the story, should help improve things. As indeed, we need to heal as one.