BAGUIO, Philippines – When President Rodrigo Duterte included Benguet among the high-risk provinces whose enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) would be extended until May 15, Baguio City residents were confused.
Baguio is geographically within Benguet, but, being a chartered city, it is administratively not under the provincial government.
“It is very important that we get a clarification on whether Baguio City is in ECQ, GCQ (general community quarantine) or neither of the two before May 1, the start of another extension of community quarantine. Otherwise, there will be a lot of confusion,” said former Baguio councilor Richard Carino.
Malacañang said on Friday morning that while Benguet remained under ECQ, its status could be reviewed before April 30 if the extension of its lockdown should push through.
Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) immediately clarified that geography is the consideration when it comes to imposing lockdowns.
“In terms of COVID, the porous borders are the problem, so the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) does not consider the cities anymore as separate entities,” Malaya said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“All the cities and towns in a province are now considered one so Benguet includes Baguio City for purposes of the ECQ,” he added.
Why was Benguet included?
Still, Benguet’s inclusion in the list of high-risk provinces was in itself a puzzle to residents.
Since March, Baguio has had 18 COVID-19 cases and Benguet has had 3, but their recovery rates are probably among the highest in the country. Baguio has only 5 active cases, with 12 recoveries and one death.
Benguet, as of Friday morning, had 3 cases and all of them have recovered. In the afternoon, however, a new case was reported in the province – a 79-year-old male from Puguis in La Trinidad town who was confined in a hospital there.
According to the Department of Health’s Cordillera director, Amelita Pangilinan, the patient has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which may complicate his case.
The inclusion of Benguet may have stemmed from the report of the University of the Philippines COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team on April 13. It included Benguet among the 16 provinces which have outbreak probability rates of over 90%. The percentage was taken by getting the ratio of the number of cases in an area to the estimated outbreak threshold.
Of these provinces, Benguet indeed has the smallest population, but its land area is among the largest. According to the UP COVID-19 team, those areas with over 90% outbreak probability need to have an extended ECQ.
Taking no chances, Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong said that the city is ready for whatever outcome and that the city’s multisectoral planning activities are ongoing regarding post-ECQ recovery and transition plans.
Magalong said that this plan is anchored on the gradual easing up and reopening of essential economic activities. – Rappler.com
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