MANILA, Philippines – At checkpoints across Metro Manila, there are more firearms than thermal guns.
The capital region was officially placed under “community quarantine” on Sunday, March 15, in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease called COVID-19. The metrowide quarantine restricts travel by land, air, and sea from Metro Manila to any point in the country.
Within 48 hours from President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement, police set up checkpoints on main thoroughfares, supposedly to check the identities and the body temperatures of those entering the region. (READ: What we know so far: The Metro Manila coronavirus lockdown)
At the border that Metro Manila shares with Rizal, some checkpoints for those bound for the capital region don’t have handheld thermal scanners. Some checkpoints on Eastern Police District’s list are even out of sight.
But Pasig City wants to “standardize its protocols” so it follows the same the quarantine procedures as its neighbor Cainta in Rizal, like contact tracing for disease-related incidents recorded at the border, among others.
No thermal guns? Wear face masks
At several checkpoints, only motorcycles are being asked to stop by the police, much like its usual anti-crime operation against riding-in-tandem and the likes.
Along Marcos Highway near the border of Marikina City and Rizal’s capital Antipolo, the police hailed the motorcycles, asked for proof of why the riders are headed for the metro, and reminded them to wear face masks.
Police officers Rappler talked to said they don’t have handheld thermal scanners at the checkpoint and they have no idea when they will have one. So instead of checking their temperatures, they just ask them to wear face masks.
It’s the same scene at East Bank Road between Pasig City and Cainta, Rizal, where police officers don’t have handheld thermal scanners. They asked the passengers instead for documents to explain why they need to enter the metro, and reminded public utility vehicle drivers that only half of its passenger capacity is allowed.
While inspecting the checkpoint on Sunday, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto was himself baffled as to why the police don’t have thermal guns when the city government distributed some last Saturday night, March 14.
On Sunday morning, Rappler spotted at least two areas at the border of Marikina and Antipolo that didn’t have checkpoints. No public utility vehicles pass those areas, save for tricycles and private vehicles.
No checkpoint in Katipunan Street cor Tangerine Street either, near the border of Marikina and Antipolo. pic.twitter.com/P7RLdq4PDT— Aika Rey (@reyaika) March 15, 2020
Based on EPD’s supposed list of checkpoints, Rappler should be able to see at least a tarpaulin indicating that a security check is meant to be set up in those designated areas.
Officials said that only main thoroughfares will have checkpoints for now. It remains to be seen whether these areas will have an actual security check in the coming days.
Meanwhile, a checkpoint should have been set up in West Bank Road between Pasig City and Cainta, Rizal, but around late Sunday morning, police officers there were still waiting for a tarpaulin that reads “Checkpoint.”
The team leader, who was at East Bank Road, told reporters that they cannot start checking people without the tarpaulin.
Lessons from Cainta
Like Metro Manila, Cainta also started its community quarantine on Sunday. The first class municipality has 3 COVID-19 cases so far, two of whom have died.
Cainta-bound checkpoints that Rappler visited have at least one thermal gun and an outpost for barangay health workers (BHW). (READ: Coronavirus lockdown: Metro Manila to Cainta, from one quarantine to another)
There, the delineation of work is noticeable. For traffic and document check, it’s the police. For temperature checks and health-related concerns, it’s the BHW. In somes cases, police officers would conduct the temperature check, but only to speed up the process.
At Felix Avenue, the border of Marikina City and Cainta, Rizal, Rappler talked to Estelita Santos, the head of Barangay San Isidro, Cainta health workers, about their protocol.
“Halimbawa, meron kaming may ano na may lagnat na taga-rito sa Cainta, nire-refer namin sa Cainta Municipal [Hospital],” Santos told Rappler. (For example, when we find out that a resident of Cainta has a fever, we can refer them to the Cainta Municipal Hospital.)
Santos said that either the BHW or the police can assist those with symptoms of COVID-19 to the nearest hospital or the Cainta Municipal Hospital. All BHWs have to do is fill up the referral form they keep in their outpost.
At the Cainta-bound East Bank Road checkpoint, which is more or less 50 meters away from one of Pasig City’s checkpoints, Sotto asked the BHWs there why a man from Pasig City who registered a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius was able to enter Cainta.
Geronima Nacman, a BHW from Barangay San Andres PFCI, explained to Sotto that they took note of the person, but the man’s temperature later registered a normal temperature of 36 degrees Celsius.
Nacman explained: “Bumaba naman ‘yung [temperature] niya, naging 36 lang po, sa sobrang init po. Kasi uminom sila kagabi.” (His temperature lowered to 36 degrees Celsius, because it was really hot. They drank last night)
“Kailangan mai-standardize natin ‘yung protocol natin. (We need to standardize our protocol),” Sotto said, taking note of how Cainta is conducting its community quarantine.
Later that day, Sotto posted on his social media accounts, saying that the protocols in Pasig will be standardized so that they’re “the same as neighboring Rizal local governments and police.“
The Metro Manila lockdown is set to end one month from now on April 14, but the Inter-Agency Task Force on coronavirus can recommend whether to extend it or cut it short, depending on the situation.
As of this posting, there are 140 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. Eleven have died. – Rappler.com