Iloilo City ECQ could be extended if hospital occupancy remains high

Inday Espina-Varona
Iloilo City ECQ could be extended if hospital occupancy remains high

Iloilo city under hard lockdown on August 3, 2021, after Mayor Jerry Treñas placed the city under enhanced community quarantine.

Arnold Almacen/Iloilo City Mayor's Office

Mayor Jerry Treñas places Iloilo under 'ECQ with hard lockdown' from August 4 to 8 in a bid to make breathing room for its struggling healthcare system

Iloilo City, the center of commerce and government in Western Visayas, faces the possibility of an extended Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) if COVID-19 cases in the surrounding provinces of Panay island continue to rise, Mayor Jerry Treñas warned on Friday, August 6.

Treñas placed his city under “ECQ with hard lockdown,” halting all air and sea travel, and tightening border controls, with no exemptions, from August 4 to August 8.

The mayor said the move aimed to give breathing space to a health care system with 100% ICU occupancy and 80% for COVID-19 wards.

The number of new cases in Iloilo City has gone down over the last two days. Its ECQ status reflects the burdens of a lopsided health care system.

“Although our cases are decreasing, the metro has been catering to patients from other provinces, leading to our increased health care utilization rate,” the mayor said.

“Almost 70% of the patients in the city are from other provinces,” Treñas added 

The city goes back to “regular ECQ” from August 8 to 15. 

But Treñas warned that the national Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) will be monitoring hospital utilization figures to determine whether the city’s quarantine status can be lowered or extended.

Contingency plans

Treñas, the city COVID-19 team, and medical directors from hospitals in the metro center met on August 5 with Health Undersecretary Dr Leopoldo Vega and retired general Carlito Galvez, Jr., head of the COVID-19 National Task Force, which implements the IATF’s policies.

They discussed contingency programs should more severe cases around Panay and Guimaras cause the city’s health system to overflow.

The city’s COVID-19 head earlier said most hospitals on the island have little or no ICU space.

Trenas is expected to announce these contingency measures late afternoon of August 6.

Panay island has four provinces: Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, and Aklan. The island province of Guimaras, lies a short distance away in the Panay Gulf.

The Region VI health office reported 268 new cases for Aklan and 177 for Iloilo province on August 5. Iloilo City reported 90 new cases the same day, down from 98 the day before, though the number of new cases in the metro initially surged from August 1, when it recorded 48 cases, to 67 on August 2 and 91 on August 3.

In contrast to Iloilo’s GCQ,  Aklan, the hardest-hit Western Visayas province, and Iloilo province are a step lower on the quarantine scale with MECQ. 

Vaccine drive

Galvez on August 5 said Iloilo City would soon receive 45,000 new doses of Sinovac vaccines and 50,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Treñas also announced on August 6 that the city would purchase P414 million worth Astra Zeneca and Novavax vaccines. 

With the government supplies, this would allow Iloilo City to immunize  85% of its half a million population, he added.

Trenas gave no details of the new purchases’ expected arrival dates. 

American biotechnology company Novavax has applied for emergency use authorization of its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo confirmed to Rappler on Friday, August 6.

Novavax on August 5 said it would again delay its timeline for seeking US authorization but said it expects to become a major distributor to lower and middle-income countries.

Aklan buries COVID-19 dead

On August 4, Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores told heads of towns and cities to prepare special burial grounds for people who have died of COVID-19 because Panay’s lone crematorium in Iloilo City had temporarily closed due to overuse.

The province has chalked up 95 deaths in the last month and the governor said the daily death rate is between 3.5 to 5 persons. 

Officials of the Gegato-Abecia Funeral Homes and Crematory said they had to trim the number of cremations from the peak of 20 to 30 to only 10. A refrigerated van will preserve some bodies but no new ones from outside Iloilo City will be accepted. The crematorium expects to have a new machine that can handle up to 60 bodies a day.

Miraflores said the province’s COVID-19 positivity rate rose from 44.25% to 57.75% in the last few days. That means more than half of all people tested turned up positive results in a province with a population of 605,584.

Aklan’s 300-bed provincial hospital also needs more frontliners, the governor added, since most of the 13 other private hospitals and government district facilities are small and not equipped to handle critical cases.

As a result, many severe cases from the province end up in Iloilo City.

Under Aklan’s MECQ, Miraflores ordered business establishments to operate only from 6 am to 4 pm, with the exception of hospitals, drug stores, media companies, funeral and embalming homes, and security teams. –