National task force to ‘evaluate’ Cebu City’s COVID-19 response

Pia Ranada
National task force to ‘evaluate’ Cebu City’s COVID-19 response
The national government is also considering tapping a 'Visayas deputy implementer' to oversee the region's coronavirus efforts

MANILA, Philippines – As Cebu City sees an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, the national government plans to assess how the city’s local officials are handling the pandemic.

The national government is also considering tapping a “Visayas deputy implementer” to oversee efforts in the region.

This was among the decisions reached by the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) as announced by Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Saturday, June 20.

“The task force is studying the possibility of putting up a NTF (National Task Force) Emergency Center and Visayas deputy implementer for Region 7 and the whole of Visayas,” he said in a virtual press briefing.

On top of this, the NTF has been asked by the IATF-EID to “evaluate ground level response” in Cebu City and the Visayas “in order to have a better calibrated response,” said Roque.

The IATF’s Resolution No. 47 states that the evaluation will cover the week of June 22 to 28.

The evaluation will include an “assessment of the possibility of instituting an NTF Emergency Operation Center and designation of a Visayas Deputy Implementer for Region VII and the entire Visayas.”

It also orders the establishment of outpatient services in existing Cebu City coronavirus treatment facilities following an observation that such facilities were not being maximized and the number of individuals self-isolating at home has grown.

The IATF also ordered a “harmonization” of regional and national coronavirus data by the Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the NTF.

The national body also ordered the “strict and uniform enforcement” of health protocols like mask-wearing and physical distancing in healthcare facilities and hospitals, wet markets, supermarkets, government offices, and workplaces.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año previously raised the alarm on the blatant disregard of such protocols in Cebu City, based on observations by IATF officials in recent visits there.

Lapses? Asked by Rappler if the new Cebu-centric task force decisions mean the national government sees lapses in how the city is handling the health crisis, Roque did not give a categorical answer.

“The story of Cebu City could have been the story of any other city in the Philippines. We should all realize that the threat of COVID-19 is real. We should realize that all steps have to be taken to curb its spread,” said the Duterte and IATF spokesman.

Highest in active cases. The decision to evaluate Cebu City comes after President Rodrigo Duterte placed it under the strictest form of lockdown, enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), from June 16 to June 30. Nearby Talisay City was also placed under the slightly looser modified ECQ for the same period.

These are the only cities currently under lockdown and both are found in Region VII or Central Visayas. 

Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella earlied appealed to the national government to ease restrictions in the city, claiming numbers “do not warrant” ECQ.

According to the IATF, Cebu City merited the strictest lockdown because there is “widespread community transmission” in most of its barangays. The number of days it takes COVID-19 to spread in Cebu City is less than 7 days and while Metro Manila barely passed this metric (6.9 case doubling rate), the mega city’s critical care facilities are not as used up as Cebu City’s.

Cebu City leads among cities and provinces in terms of most number of new cases in the last 14 days, according to the Department of Health’s tracker.

As of June 19, it has had 906 such cases, followed far behind by Cebu province with 261 cases. In third place is Manila with 228 cases.

Cebu City also leads in the total number of cases among cities and provinces (3,317). It is followed by Quezon City with 2,848 cases.

Metro Manila, previously the hardest-hit by the pandemic, has eased into general community quarantine (GCQ) where public transportation has resumed and most business operations have restarted with some limitations and observance of health protocols like mask-wearing and physical distancing.

Experts previously warned that Cebu City has become the “second major battleground” in the fight to curb the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.