Local gov’ts urged to penalize violations of health measures
The home affairs office has urged local governments to enact ordinances penalizing violations of public health measures, in a bid to halt a spike in coronavirus infections that has seen more than 3,000 new cases daily in the past week.
Already the flare-up in COVID-19 cases has led to local lockdowns in Metro Manila, with at least one city considering reducing capacity in public places and two others reimposing a nighttime curfew to reduce movement by sending people home early.
Officials have blamed the eruption in cases on noncompliance with minimum health measures by a quarantine-weary people nearly a year after the Philippines imposed one of the strictest lockdowns in the world following the global spread of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes the severe respiratory disease COVID-19.
Variants not driving rise
It has been feared that the faster growth in cases, particularly in Metro Manila, is driven by more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, but both the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have sought to ease those fears, saying on Tuesday that confirmed cases of the variants are too few to conclude that the new bugs are causing the flare.
The more contagious UK and South Africa variants of the coronavirus have been detected in the Philippines. On Wednesday, the DOH denied earlier reports that the Brazil variant of the virus known as P.1 had been discovered in Quezon City. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said what had been detected in the Philippines was the B.1.1.28, which was also first reported in Brazil, but this was “not a variant of concern” here.
The DOH has repeatedly appealed to the public to keep complying with health measures such as wearing masks and face shields and observing physical distancing, but laboratories have also kept returning thousands of positive test results, though not yet threatening to overwhelm the health service.
On Wednesday, the DOH reported 2,886 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 603,308.
The DOH said 17 more patients had died, raising the death toll to 12,545. It reported that 221 other patients had recovered, pushing the number of COVID-19 survivors to 546,293 overall.
It said the country still had 44,470 active cases, of which 91.7 percent were mild, 4.0 percent asymptomatic, 0.80 percent moderate, 1.7 percent severe, and 1.7 percent critical.
To force compliance with public health measures, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has asked local governments to enact ordinances penalizing violations of the health rules.
In a radio interview on Tuesday night, Epimaco Densing III, local government undersecretary for operations, said only 878 of the 1,500 local governments in the country had ordinances requiring observance of public health measures. Of those 878, Densing said, only 600 have ordinances that penalize breaches of the health rules.
“We are directing [the] local governments to pass penal ordinances so our stubborn countrymen [will comply with] the minimum public health [measures],” Densing said.
He said the DILG issued a directive to local governments in July last year to enact ordinances for the observance of public health measures. He said the home affairs office suggested penalties for violations of health rules, but the local governments may have “overlooked” the directive.
“We have already directed our field officers to convince the different councils to pass such ordinances,” Densing said, adding that the agency would also talk to the mayors and vice mayors.
Apart from jail time or a fine, Densing suggested community service as an optional penalty for breach of health measures.
Among the violators of public health rules are drivers of public utility vehicles, and the Inter-Agency Council for Traffic is intensifying inspections to curb breaches of the measures.
The council said on Wednesday that 517 drivers were arrested from January to February for not following health requirements on their vehicles.
The DILG’s Densing also said only four of the 17 local governments in Metro Manila had been able to comply with the WHO standard contact tracing ratio of 1:800, or one contact tracer for every 800 people.
He named the four cities that had complied with the WHO standard as Manila, Pateros, Taguig and San Juan.
To help stem the rise in COVID-19 cases, the Quezon City government is considering reducing capacity in churches, restaurants and other public places.
Mayor Joy Belmonte told a news conference that the local government had yet to receive guidelines from the national government, but it was already consulting churches and businesses for reductions.
“We would like to make restrictions in areas [that] we believe [are highly risky for spread of the virus],” Belmonte said. “[Those] would probably [be] areas where mass gatherings happen.”
In Parañaque City, where three cases of the South Africa variant have been found, the local government restored the 10-p.m.-to-4-a.m. curfew starting Wednesday to send people home earlier than midnight.
The city government also prohibited mass gatherings. Religious gatherings are allowed, but limited to 10 people. Only people 15 to 65 years old are allowed to go out.
Muntinlupa City reimposed a midnight-to-3-a.m. curfew and reinstalled “all-day checkpoints” at barangay boundaries.
In Pasay, where local lockdowns have been imposed, the local government is considering a longer curfew amid rising COVID-19 cases in the city. Currently, Pasay implements a midnight-to-4-a.m. curfew.
Jonathan Malaya, spokesperson for the DILG, urged the Metro Manila mayors to make the curfew the same throughout the metropolis.
“Having different curfew hours is difficult for and confusing to the public. It would also be easier for the [metropolitan] police to implement the curfew if the hours are uniform across Metro Manila,” Malaya said.
He said it was up to the mayors to decide the duration of the curfew, but suggested that it start at 10 p.m.
Also on Wednesday, the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital said the 30 health workers on its staff who had tested positive for the coronavirus had recovered. One of the 30 had gotten the South Africa variant. —WITH REPORTS FROM NIKKA G. VALENZUELA, PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, DEXTER CABALZA, MARIEJO S. RAMOS AND JODEE A. AGONCILLO
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