Two days ahead of President Rodrigo Dutere’s decision to isolate the entire Metro Manila as a bold measure to stop the surge of COVID-19 infection, Puerto Princesa City declared a state of emergency throughout the capital at the opening of the week.
The spread of the virus has been on a steady rise, with already 64 persons infected nationwide as weekend closed and 5 fatalities thus far.
President Duterte on Thursday night rambled on national television to declare a 1-month “community quarantine” of Metro Manila. His studio visual was telling – the health secretary playing only second fiddle to a trusted ex-aide and currently senator Bong Go on his right hand and a pair of police generals behind him.
Palawan remains virus-free
Last week was the closest Palawan has come thus far to dealing face to face with the deadly virus, A middle-agent woman, while confined in a private hospital for non-COVID related sickness, showed symptoms of the disease and was promptly labeled as a “patient under investigation,” a protocol requiring tests at Manila’s centralized laboratory facility run by the Regional Center for Infectious Disease.
At the end of the week, that patient was eventually declared clear of COVID infection, even as two other persons, including a foreign tourist, joined the current remaining list of PUIs in Palawan.
“Palawan is still COVID-19 free since PUI1 tested negative,” Dr. Mario Baquilod regional director of the Department of Health (DOH) declared on Friday.
LGU responses, city accesses savings fund
Even as it was apparent that the city government had yet to formulate any comprehensive plan of action in dealing with a potential virus spread, City Mayor Lucilo Bayron declared a state of health emergency as the week began.
The declaration allowed the city government to access an untapped P75M currently in savings, in lieu of calamity funds that it could not utilize in the absence of a real calamity.
“We just wanted to be sure there was funding available,” Councilor Victor Oliveros told Palawan News.
The City Council appropriated P75 M for its COVID-response capacity, loosely justified during the Council deliberations as needed for medical supplies and to conduct a massive information drive.
“The City Health Office had prepared a budget plan of P40 million,” Oliveros, chair of the committee on appropriations, said.
Oliveros admitted the city is yet to formulate a complete plan of action on how it will intervene to prevent the spread of the virus in the city, even as he said an inter-department team had already been formed for the purpose.
As “community quarantine” of Manila effective March 15 loomed, among the pressing concerns in Puerto Princesa City was the suspension of travel, with tourists scrambling to book flights back to there places when the city government decided Friday to order the stoppage of all domestic flights at the local airport.
“That action was not thought out,” a complaining netizen stated, pointing out that there was no necessity to stop other domestic flights.
Crisis management challenges
Councilor Oliveros admits that the city had played a marginal role in the case of the city’s first “patient under investigation”, as local frontline health officials struggled to find a way to send the patient specimens for testing in Manila.
According to the regional health office of the Department of Health, it took over two days for them to receive the specimen for testing, because of regulatory restrictions faced by the commercial courier that handled the samples.
“This is something that we need to address,” Oliveros said, vowing to make sure city officials take up the matter.
Outside of the capitol, other local government units acted on cue from President Duterte’s nationwide emergency declaration to localize the same policy of containment.
El Nido, one of the province’s main tourist attractions, urged all visitors to leave town before the weekend was over.
Other towns suspended major social activities including fiestas and related events. Among the first towns to do this were San Vicente and Sofronio Espanola.