Subic Bay Freeport Zone

SBMA orders mass testing of Subic container terminal workers

Randy V. Datu
SBMA orders mass testing of Subic container terminal workers

MASS TESTING. File phto of the new container terminal operated by SBITC in the Subic Bay Freeport. Photo by SBMA

SBMA Photo

The SBMA says there are only 2 choices to contain an outbreak in the Freeport 'either mass testing... or shutdown of terminal operations'

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) ordered the Subic Bay International Terminal Corporation (SBITC), operator of the new container terminal here, to have all its employees tested for the new coronavirus after an outbreak of cases last week.

SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said a total of 14 cases of SARS-CoV-2 of have been recorded among SBITC workers since July 30 when a worker from Olongapo City, who had no history of travel to any high-risk area, first showed symptoms of the disease.

“It was either mass testing by RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) or shutdown of terminal operations—that’s the only choice left if we wanted to contain the outbreak,” Eisma said.

She said the SBMA also required disinfection of the whole terminal complex, closure of engineering and maintenance areas subject to focused disinfection, and daily in-house disinfection.

“Thankfully, the SBITC management was very cooperative in our strategy to contain the spread, as we knew that closure is a last resort because testing is the key to preventing the spread and that the Red Cross lab at our doorstep makes for fast turnaround for results,” she added.

She said that SBITC president Roberto Locsin assured that aside from those already traced and tested after some workers turned out positive, all other personnel working in the container terminal will undergo RT-PCR test.

These include a total of 238 shift workers, port users, security personnel, canteen staff, and even SBMA checkers.

According to contact tracing records received by the SBMA Public Health and Safety Department, at least 50 employees have been identified as close contacts after the first COVID-19 infection at SBITC.

The PHSD said that after the first worker tested positive on August 4, tracing identified 15 contacts in the workforce. When 3 of the 15 contacts tested positive on August 7, 25 close contacts in the work area were identified in turn and of these, 7 came out positive. Since then, 3 other cases were recorded.

Of the 14 infected workers, 9 are from Olongapo City, 4 from Zambales, and one from Aurora.

Only two of the confirmed cases have been admitted to a hospital, as the rest were mostly asymptomatic and were placed on home quarantine.

In messages to Eisma, Locsin said that they have also initiated other measures to arrest the infection in the workplace.

Aside from contact tracing and immediate quarantining of close contacts, the firm had since closed the administration building to visitors, started issuing gate passes online, encouraged online payments, closed the operations barracks, ordered the mandatory wearing of face mask and face shield, and prohibited dine-in at the company canteen.

Locsin also said terminal facilities have been disinfected first by the SBMA Fire Department on August 8 to 10, and the next by a third party contractor on August 11. More disinfections were made on August 15 and 16.

For the mass testing scheduled Monday, Eisma said that swabbing booths have been set up by SBITC at the terminal, with two mobile swab booths loaned by the SBMA for contingency.

Two medical technologists were assigned at the container terminal to take swab samples of 80 SBITC staff already stationed at the terminal. Three others will be at the SBMA swabbing center near the Subic main gate for samples from the other 158 SBITC workers who would be coming mostly from Olongapo City.

Eisma said that test results can be generated within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the volume of samples tested at the Red Cross molecular laboratory here in the Freeport. –