Health groups: ‘Militaristic’ ECQ useless without solid pandemic strategy

Dwight de Leon
Health groups: ‘Militaristic’ ECQ useless without solid pandemic strategy

Members of Bacoor City PNP and barangay officers man a checkpoint at the border of Cavite province and NCR's Las Piñas City at the start of the Enhanced Community Quarantine on March 29, 2021

Photo by Dennis Abrina/Rappler

Groups representing or advocating for the rights of health workers call on the government to revamp its COVID-19 task force

The revert of Metro Manila and four nearby provinces to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest form of lockdown, one year into the pandemic underscores the Duterte administration’s inabililty to provide a concrete strategy to end the COVID-19 crisis.

Various groups representing and advocating for the rights of health workers asserted this during a media briefing by the Solidarity of Health Advocates and Personnel for a Unified Plan to Defeat COVID-19 (SHAPE UP) on Wednesday, March 31.

“The IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) must be changed because it consists of former military officials who are unknowledgeable on how to respond to a health crisis,” said Dr. Edelina dela Paz, chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), in a mix of English and Filipino.

“Because this is a failed response, the DOH has to also address its strategies, and to do that…remove (Health Secretary) Francisco Duque III,” Dela Paz added.

Calls for Duque’s resignation have persisted since the entry of COVID-19 in Philippine shores in January 2020, but President Rodrigo Duterte said Duque continues to enjoy his trust.

The group also said Duterte must be held accountable and must be called to resign.

More health workers, cash aid

The Filipino Nurses United (FNU), meanwhile, aired their grievances over the government’s failure to heed their call for mass hiring and staff augmentation.

The group said it is irrational to increase hospital beds without additional personnel.

“The nurse to patient ratio in COVID-19 wards should be 1:3 for moderate to severe COVID patients and 1:1 for critical care. But in reality, one nurse handles an average of 12 severe cases and in the intensive care unit, one nurse takes care of 2-3 patients,” said Jaymmee de Guzman, FNU national treasurer.

SHAPE UP went a step further and asked the government to build a hospital that will exclusively accommodate coronavirus cases, amid reports that some overwhelmed medical facilities are turning away COVID-19 patients.

Puwede ba, malaki naman siguro ang Bayanihan (Presuming we still have funds left from the coronavirus relief package), can you make a hospital for COVID-19 patients alone, like what China did in Wuhan?” SHAPE UP co-convenor Dr. Eleanor Jara said.

For the Coalition for People’s Right to Health, the ECQ cannot work “if people are left in their homes without the basic necessities.”

“Given the preexisting inequality in economics and health access being further worsened by the pandemic, such policies will always adversely disadvantage the poor even more; only the privileged can live and seek medical attention despite the checkpoints and fiscal crisis,” the group said in a statement.

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Mass testing, free vaccines

Bantay Bakuna urged the government to speed up the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines.

But it maintained that the Duterte administration should not only focus on acquiring vaccine jabs, but also on providing free vaccines to the public, and intensifying contact tracing and mass testing efforts.

Kasama rito ang pag-aayos sa mass testing at contact tracing, kung saan tayo lubusang nagkukulang (Our calls include fixing our mass testing and contact tracing efforts, areas where we are so behind),” Bantay Bakuna said in a statement.

As active COVID-19 cases in the Philippines surpassed the 130,000 mark Wednesday, lawmakers on March 30 called out the government’s counting system for COVID-19 cases as leading to underreporting.

Contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong also admitted that in numerous regions, contact tracing efforts are “deteriorating.”

The government is set to decide on April 3 whether to extend the ECQ in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite, collectively known as “NCR Plus.” –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers the House of Representatives and the Commission on Elections for Rappler. Previously, he wrote stories on local government units.