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Negros, Iloilo oppose easing rules for ROFs

Returning overseas Filipinos will be tested and quarantined in their hometowns even if the National Task Force says it is no longer required

EXHAUSTED Roxas City medical technologist Anecita Kapaw-An takes a rest from extracting samples from patients being tested for COVID-19 in Capiz province. —PHOTO COURTESY OF RANIER FUNA

BACOLOD CITY — Mayors of Iloilo and Negros Occidental provinces have opposed the latest guidelines of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) exempting returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) from retesting and undergoing mandatory quarantine upon arrival at their home provinces and towns.

Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson said he and the 31 mayors of the province decided to continue testing and isolating ROFs despite the task force’s order.

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“Subjecting them to tests in Manila will be a waste of effort, time and valuable resources as we have proven through experience that those who tested negative in Manila may be infected in transit to the provinces,” he said.

The governor said the ROFs should be swabbed in Negros Occidental and quarantined at the local government unit.

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Sacrifices put to waste

Mayor Rosario Mediatrix “Trixie” Fernandez of San Enrique town in Iloilo said that they, too, are against the guidelines of the NTF regarding ROFs.

“We do not agree with the guidelines. All our efforts, resources, sacrifices [to manage the COVID-19 pandemic] will be put to waste,” Fernandez, also the president of the Iloilo chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, told the Inquirer on Friday.

She said they were drafting a resolution to formally oppose the guidelines on the ROFs.

“We hope the national task force sees the consequence of this decision,” she said.

Under the guidelines dated Aug. 19 and received by local government units on Tuesday, ROFs who have tested negative in a real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test (RT-PCR) and have undergone a 14-day quarantine in Manila will not be retested and undergo quarantine upon arrival in their home provinces.

As we see fit

Upon arrival at their final destination, the ROFs will be transported directly to their respective homes, according to the guidelines.

But Fernandez pointed out that retesting and the 14-day quarantine for ROFs and other returnees, which they have been implementing were essential in ensuring that no infected person will be going home to their families and communities.

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“We already had several ROFs who tested negative in Manila but turned out to be positive when they were retested here. We are daily facing the problem of a rising number of cases,” she said.

She pointed out that many hospitals in Iloilo have stopped admitting COVID-19 patients because of overcapacity and exhaustion of their personnel.

“We brought one of our residents exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to Iloilo City and it took us six hours going from one hospital to another before the patient was admitted,” Fernandez said.

Another Iloilo town mayor said they would quarantine ROFs in their town if they see the need to do it, even if the NTF guidelines says otherwise.

“It has been proven so many times that many ROFs and [locally stranded individuals] who tested negative in Manila became positive upon repeat test. We can only effectively contain the spread of local transmission if they are isolated and tested again. Our collapsing health system will completely crumble if there will be more local transmissions,” another mayor, who asked not to be named, said.

Fernandez said providing quarantine facilities for 14 days for ROFs was a burden for local government units but she said they were willing to do it to ensure the safety of their residents.

Overwhelmed

In Capiz province, the medical community and hospital association there also appealed for the suspension of transport of returnees to avoid the local health-care system from getting overwhelmed by the rising COVID-19 cases. They are also appealing for more medical personnel and equipment, personal protective equipment, and field hospital tents.

Local government units in Western Visayas have been requesting the suspension of the transport of ROFs and other returnees to allow health personnel to rest and prepare isolation facilities.

The Department of Health in Western Visayas reported 4,684 COVID-19 cases in the region as of Aug. 31. These include 76 deaths and 2,301 active cases.

Out of the total number of cases, 1,569 involved ROFs, stranded persons and authorized persons outside of residence.

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TAGS: coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, Iloilo, National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF), Negros Occidental, returning overseas Filipinos
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