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Tugade eyes passengers ships as ‘floating quarantine hospitals’

/ 04:02 PM March 30, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The government is now coordinating with ship owners and operators for the use of their private passenger vessels as “floating quarantine hospitals” as medical facilities reach full capacity for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients.

In a March 26-letter by Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade in response to Senator Francis Tolentino, he informed the lawmaker that the department has already been “exploring the feasibility of commissioning passenger ships, and possibly utilizing available Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) vessels, as ‘floating quarantine hospitals’ which can be deployed and prepositioned in any parts of the country, in case of an uncontrolled outbreak of the virus.”

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Tolentino, in an earlier letter, asked the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to initially provide three passenger vessels—one for Luzon (Manila Port), Visayas (Cebu Port) and Mindanao (Davao Port)—to serve as hospital ships.

Tugade has since convened DOTr officials and heads of concerned attached agencies, such as the PCG; the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina); and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), to “discuss the operationalization of the plan to commission private passenger vessels and, if necessary, to utilize the PCG vessels, as additional medical facilities.”

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This, according to the Transport chief, is in view of Section 4(h) of the recently signed Republic Act 11469 or the “Bayanihan To Heal As One Act” which allows the President, through the secretary, to direct the operation of any privately-owned passengers vessels to serve as temporary medical facilities.

“With the daily and constant surge in new COVID-19 cases and alarming fact that most, if not all, of our hospitals and medical facilities in Metro Manila have already reached their full capacities and capability to handle COVID-19 patients, we in DOTr signifies our commitment to cooperate with other government agencies, viz., grants your (Tolentino) request for us to contribute in easing the burden of our hospitals and health workers,” Tugade wrote.

Once these quarantine ships have been set up, it would be installed with required medical equipment and can be complemented with other ships—either government-owned and/or privately-owned—which shall serve as logistics or supply ships, according to the Transport chief

Tugade, in his letter, said, the PCG has “offered to supervise said floating quarantine hospitals and deploy doctors and nurses to augment the dwindling number of existing civilian doctors, nurses and health workers, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH).”

“These proposals were made by (PCG Commandant Joel Garcia) prior to the enactment of R.A. 11469 when the government’s jurisdiction to direct utilization and operation of facilities was limited only to those owned by the government, its agencies, and instrumentalities,” the DOTr secretary noted.

In a statement, Tolentino thanked Tugade for his “quick and positive response to our proposal and his decisive action as to the deployment of the hospital ships.”

The senator said this recent development would “ease the burden of our public medical facilities in addressing the growing need for hospital beds during this time of a national health emergency.”

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Tolentino said that these passenger vessels can ably serve the health needs of the Filipino people amid the pandemic.

“We hope that this proposal will hit the ground running at the soonest possible time,” he added.

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