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Zamboanga Sibugay towns with no doctors, facilities rattled by return of OFWs

/ 07:55 PM April 28, 2020

PAGADIAN CITY—The return of more than a hundred overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to their hometowns in Zamboanga Sibugay is causing anxiety among local officials who share a single concern—where to quarantine these modern heroes who have kept the Philippine economy afloat.

Some town mayors expressed anxiety over the lack of facilities that would ease anxieties over whether the returning OFWs are already coronavirus-free when they are embraced by their families.

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The mayors expressed this concern at a meeting of the province’s COVID-19 Task Force last Friday (April 24).

Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Wilter Palma, who presided over the meeting, said 41 OFWs, mainly seafarers, were to arrive in the province within the week. Another batch of more than 100 OFWs, nurses and others, was coming.

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The news alarmed small town mayors.

“We do not know what might happen along the way,” said Mayor Roselyn Silva of Imelda town. “Even if they were already quarantined in Manila, someone might have the virus.”

Silva said she was very careful about people entering her town and spreading coronavirus because she could not declare a lockdown because her town doesn’t have funds to feed its people.

“We cannot afford feeding all our people,” she said. “Once we declare a lockdown, we should be delivering goods.”

That was why, she said, that officials should first gather the OFWs in one area where they could be checked and tested before they were allowed to return to their families.

“This is a serious matter,” said Silva. She said her town has no facility to quarantine the returning OFWs. “We do not have doctors except for our municipal health officer,” she said.

She said the provincial government should extend help to towns or towns could share the burden. Gathering the OFWs in one area, she said, would allow officials to “focus only on one area.”

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Mayor Jarvis Acosta, of Siay town, said the provincial government should rent a hotel or turn a school into a quarantine facility with each town helping in expenses.

“We are not fully equipped but we are willing to help,” said Acosta.

Mayor Edreluisa Calonge, of Mabuhay town and a doctor, said the repatriates needed to be quarantined in one place.

“It will be very difficult to monitor if everyone is scattered,” she said.

“It’s not a joke since we still don’t have the treatment yet,” Calonge said. She added that at the rate medical workers are getting infected, there would come a day no one would treat the sick anymore.

Calonge said the provincial government should give municipal governments a “leeway” in dealing with the returning OFWs.

She said even the provincial health office barely has any equipment, training or PPE.

Only a few health workers in the provincial government “know how to conduct” tests for coronavirus, said Calonge.

She said only 16 health workers had been trained to swab for respiratory samples and they would be overwhelmed for sure by the sheer number of returning OFWs.

The health workers, Calonge added, have not been trained on proper use of PPE.

The mayors asked the provincial government to keep the returning OFWs in one place and find a separate place for medical workers to train on taking tests and using PPE.

But Palma, the governor, said all the OFWs would have already finished quarantine in Manila, where the workers had been stranded.

“We just want to make sure they don’t become positive along the way that is why we wanted them to get another quarantine,” Palma said.

He cited a directive by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) telling local governments to take care of their people.

“It is very clear that the local government units should be the ones who would take care of their people,” said Palma.

“You have to take charge of your constituents. We could not prevent people from returning to their place of domicile,” he said.

The governor also assured the town mayors they could turn patients with COVID-19 symptoms over to hospitals that had been tagged for coronavirus cases.

“If they show symptoms, turn them over to the provincial government,” the governor said.

Edited by TSB

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