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Remoteness, border closure keep 3 provinces virus-free

/ 04:30 AM August 07, 2020

ITBAYAT, BATANES — This northernmost province, along with Quirino and Aurora, has not recorded any case of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) since the start of the pandemic, data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed.

Batanes officials have endorsed the limited flights to Basco, the capital town, and maintained a community-backed border lockdown to keep the virus at bay.

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At the onset of the outbreak in February, the provincial government immediately ordered a border shutdown with other Cagayan Valley provinces and island towns.

Itbayat Mayor Raul de Sagon said this town was one of the first areas to impose travel restrictions in the first week of February. It banned tourists in March before the rest of the country dealt with the specter of the pandemic.

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According to the local task force, the swab specimens of six suspected COVID-19 patients in Batanes had tested negative for infection.

NORTHERN GUIDE The lighthouse in the Batanes capital of Basco still guides ships passing through the northernmost province’s rough waters. The hill on which the structure stands has become popular to tourists for its picture-perfect view of the sea and Mt. Iraya. —RICHARD BALONGLONG

Lone suspected case

As of Thursday, Batanes had only one suspected case, which was being monitored at Batanes General Hospital. The province had quarantined 87 suspected cases as of Aug. 6.

Dr. Rio Magpantay, DOH director in Cagayan Valley, confirmed that Batanes and Quirino remained free of the virus despite the 397 cases recorded in the entire region.

Quirino Gov. Carlo Dakila Cua said checkpoints in the province’s borders helped prevent virus transmission. He said returning residents under the government’s “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa” program and repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were being monitored and placed on quarantine as precaution.

Aurora is the only province in Central Luzon that has remained free of COVID-19. The region north of Metro Manila recorded 2,582 confirmed cases, 1,073 recoveries, and 99 deaths.

Almost half of the confirmed cases happened in Bulacan province at 1,401. It reported 476 recoveries and 46 deaths.

Confirmed cases in other provinces were in Bataan, 376; Pampanga, 353; Nueva Ecija, 198; Zambales, 86; and Tarlac, 91.

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DOH records also showed there were 57 OFWs who were repatriated via Clark International Airport and who later tested positive for the virus.

Aurora (population: 250,000) was placed under modified general community quarantine in a low-risk category. It logged 69 suspected cases, including 19 in Maria Aurora, 16 in Baler, 10 in Dipaculao, nine in Dingalan, seven in Casiguran, three in Dilasag, four in San Luis and one in Dinalungan. They had all tested negative for the virus.

Natural barriers

Gov. Gerardo Noveras said the province’s remoteness helped it remain virus-free. Baler is more than 200 kilometers north of Metro Manila. Long stretches of the Sierra Madre range and the Pacific Ocean serve as natural barriers.

Aurora was locked down 10 days before its foundation festival on Feb. 19. Local tourism was sacrificed as tourists and visitors were banned, Noveras said, adding that a few visitors who decided to spend the lockdown in the province were allowed to stay.

But he said he could not guarantee that Aurora would remain safe from COVID-19 to the end. Some residents had been caught spiriting relatives in vehicles, he said. —REPORTS FROM NATHAN ALCANTARA, VILLAMOR VISAYA JR. AND TONETTE OREJAS

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TAGS: 2019-nCoV, Aurora, Batanes, Coronavirus, coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Health, Local news, NcoV, nCoV update, News, novel coronavirus, pandemic, Philippine news updates, Quirino, regional news, Regions, Virus
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