POSTSCRIPT / February 11, 2020 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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A quarantine area or nCoV epicenter?

THE NEXT dozen days will tell us if the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac, is a suitable quarantine area for the first batch of 30 Filipinos repatriated Sunday from mainland China — or become the local epicenter of imported Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) infection.

Being monitored in controlled isolation in the Athletes’ Village at the NCC are Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) from Wuhan City, where the epidemic started in December, and the government team and the Royal Air crew that flew them back home.

With the meticulous preparation and adherence to protocol, there seems to be a minimal chance that the virus has been carried inadvertently by the repatriates and may be passed on in a chain infection from Clark to the community outside.

As the nCoV death count raced yesterday toward the 1,000th mark on the Chinese mainland even as it infected 40,700 individuals in 28 countries, it looked like China coughed and the world caught a new strain of pneumonia.

The Filipino repatriates, one of them a child, were tested for the coronavirus before and during the three-hour flight and before landing at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga. Until yesterday, all of them were asymptomatic and apparently doing well at the NCC.

While they all have no symptoms, the health department has placed all government hospitals and health facilities in Central Luzon on Code Blue alert to provide all the OFWs’ medical requirements if needed.

The inter-agency task force managing the repatriation and quarantine must show that President Duterte knew what he was talking about when he said early on that people need not worry about the acute respiratory disease since “everything is under control.”

Any viral outbreak in Clark would be disastrous both for Duterte and the freeport employing more than 100,000 workers of 1,167 locators that bring in $6.08 billion in annual gross revenue. Contamination would hurt manufacturing and other economic activity in the freeport.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has said that the epidemic would cut by some 0.7 percent the country’s gross domestic product if it lasts for the entire year. The reduction would be about 0.3 percent if it remains until June, he said.

If the repatriates and their caregivers emerge after the two-week quarantine with a clean bill of health, they win for Duterte a gold medal for approving over some local objections the medical use of the Athletes’ Village of the recent 30th Southeast Asian Games.

But if the deadly virus rears its horned head and romps off to spread contagion outside the restricted village – making Clark the local nCoV epicenter — Duterte could find himself incinerated in the cauldron of public condemnation.

 Local officials react to use of Clark

EARLY objectors to using the Athletes’ Village included Capas Mayor Rey Catacutan and Vice Mayor Jeseller Rodriguez, along with other members of the municipal council who planned to secure a court injunction against using the NCC as a quarantine area.

In Germany where he was on an official trip, Catacutan said Wednesday: “We acknowledge that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority has full jurisdiction over NCC, but I, as the Mayor of Capas, appealed in behalf of all Capaseños to our dear President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Francisco Duque to consider another place or facility as isolation area.”

Catacutan said later, however, that his objection was just an initial reaction: “As father of Capas who is distant from his constituents, I had to react to the panic caused by the sudden news that the repatriated OFWs were to be quarantined at the NCC.”

He added: “(This is) what happens when people are not made fully aware of a situation, or a problem and its solution. They panic, they fear, and they get angry and protest… We in Capas, offer our home, our sympathy, and prayers for the health of our fellow Filipinos.”

Among the local officials who welcomed NCC for quarantine was Pampanga Gov. Dennis Pineda who assured that the provincial government has adequate facilities and trained personnel to look after repatriates and nCoV victims.

Pineda said: “We are ready to provide those who will undergo quarantine with the right facility in coordination with the Department of Health, Bureau of Quarantine and the Jose B. Lingad Regional Medical Center.”

He expressed confidence that until the end of the month, the number of Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) in the region will not increase since Clark had already banned flights to and from China and its special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau.

“We often say OFWs are modern-day heroes,” Pineda said. “It’s time to show our concern for them.”

The governor was also among the first non-Batangueños to help victims of the latest Taal volcano eruption. On Jan. 13, he led a 63-vehicle convoy of rescue and relief workers, with equipment and food packs. His team worked for a week in Batangas before going home, then returned for another five days, before returning for the third time.

It was the least that the Capampangans could do to help Taal eruption victims. They themselves went through a similarly harrowing experience when Mt. Pinatubo, after a slumber of some 600 years, erupted in June 1991 and devastated communities around it.

The cabalens’ coming to the rescue of neighbors hit hard by natural disaster also calls to (my) mind Pampanga’s solicitous patroness – the Virgen delos Remedios.

Accompanied by devotees walking and praying in a procession from one town to the next, the miraculous image visits the 22 municipalities and cities of Pampanga, bringing pasalubong or gifts to the less fortunate cabalens waiting for her.

In senior high in Angeles, my classmates and I – with hundreds of devotees – once walked and prayed through the night while accompanying the Virgen delos Remedios over the 15-kilometer stretch of MacArthur highway between Angeles and San Fernando.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 11, 2020)

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