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‘Irrational checkpoints’ threat to Bicol food stock

‘Starve the virus through social distancing, not the people through food delivery’
By: - Correspondent / @mbjaucianINQ
/ 04:10 AM March 21, 2020

CHECKPOINT Heavy traffic is seen along the southbound approach of the South Luzon Expressway on March 18, as it approaches the checkpoint near Susana Heights, Muntinlupa City, stalling commuters and goods bound for Southern Luzon. —RICHARD A. REYES

LEGAZPI CITY—Irrational checkpoints threaten food security amid the fight against the spread of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.

“Let’s starve the virus through social distancing, not the people through food delivery delays,” the solon stressed.

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He also appealed to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to rationalize the checkpoints to prevent road congestion and protect food security.

Long queues

“We have the supply. There’s definitely spiking demand for essentials like food and hygiene products. But if it takes too many extra hours for food supply to reach demand, this will compound by the day, and as we go further down the enhanced quarantine, we will see unnecessary food shortages across public markets and groceries. This will ignominiously add real hunger to the emotional hunger imposed by social distancing,” Salceda said.

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In an aide-mémoire to the House leadership, Salceda said that while food supply remains stable, long queues forming at a complex web of multiple municipal checkpoints and provincial border controls “threatens immediate supply stability and increases price pressures.”

“The point of the Luzon-wide enhanced quarantine are two-fold, to encourage home quarantine and to protect Visayas and Mindanao from Covid-19 infection. In theory, the idea is to contain infections within Luzon, and to keep intra-Luzon numbers low through social distancing,” the aide-mémoire stated.

“In practice, localities within Luzon are adopting their own local checkpoints, so that supplies traveling from Manila would face at least four provincial checkpoints and several municipal checkpoints to Legazpi with 33 potentially and 39 toward Matnog, Sorsogon (jump point to VisMin markets). Effectively, what we have right now is a complex combination of multiple municipal checkpoints and provincial boundary controls. There are around 40 towns and 5 provinces between Sto. Tomas and Matnog. The queues will be multikilometric if each will have their own checkpoint for food and goods transport.”

He said the effects are “1) congestion at checkpoints that compromise social distancing; 2) delays in resupplying groceries, markets and supermarkets; 3) stretched peace and order personnel and resources, diverting them from productive in-community tracking and surveillance; 4) spikes in prices due to supply shortages; 5) private sector losses that endanger the economy’s medium-term ability to weather the health emergency.”

“We don’t want to choke Luzon hungry,” Salceda said.

“A trucking day is around 15 hours, for Manila to Bicol transports. They’re currently delayed now by at least five hours,” he said.

He predicted that this could mean that within the next three days, it is possible for supplies to run out in Bicol if the checkpoints are not properly organized.

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“Let the PNP (Philippine National Police) with advice from the DOH (Department of Health) decide what checkpoints are needed to slow down the transmission,” Salceda said.

WHAT SOCIAL DISTANCING? Despite the threat of COVID-19, locals continue to crowd markets and stores in Daraga town of Albay without paying attention to the 1-meter social distancing requirement to secure basic items that are getting scarce as the province went into a total lockdown. —MARK ALVIC ESPLANA

Quarantine passes

He recommended the rationalizing of checkpoints, the lifting of procedures for access to food lanes and additional benefits to truck drivers of essential goods.

The locally initiated lockdowns on top of the Luzon-wide lockdown have also created another problem when many local governments required residents to secure “quarantine passes” that will allow them to get through checkpoints, forcing residents to wait in queues that did not observe social distancing.

In Zambales province, for example, residents of Subic and other towns of the province who were forced to wait in long queues in front of their village halls for their quarantine passes complained that the process was “inappropriate” and “tiring,” adding that most of them had to walk distances to reach their barangay hall.

Quarantine passes were issued to residents to ensure they would undergo proper quarantine during the lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. The pass is transferable to any household member and should be carried when buying food and medicines.

“Subic’s new one-time pass guidelines should be reexamined,” said a resident at Barangay Mangan Vaca here. She said they were told to go to the barangay hall to get their pass, which was only effective for three hours and must be given back to village officials.

Household distribution

According to the residents, the system would only force people to gather in front of the barangay hall, defying the social distancing practice being encouraged by the DOH to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

Social distancing is keeping about a meter distance between two persons, especially in public places.

In Pangasinan province, residents of Barangay Bued in Calasiao town asked their village officials to issue two quarantine passes per household. But the village chair turned down the request, saying they had to abide by the guidelines set by the Department of the Interior and Local Government. —WITH REPORTS FROM JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT, YOLANDA SOTELO and TONETTE OREJAS

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: Albay Rep. Joey Salced, COVID-19, Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, Irrational checkpoints
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