MANILA, Philippines – Anticipating a rise in cases of the novel coronavirus in the country, the government is preparing several large venues and hotels to serve as quarantine areas, said the National Task Force (NTF) COVID-19 chief implementer, Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, on Tuesday, March 31.
This comes as the government plans to carry out "massive testing" of patients under investigation (PUIs) and persons under monitoring (PUMs) for the virus, as well as health workers on the front lines of fighting the pandemic.
The task force is now looking to convert gymnasiums, convention centers, sports complexes, and hotels in Metro Manila into "forced quarantine areas."
Among venues Galvez specified in a media release from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process were:
The CCP Complex has several large-hall venues: the CCP building that has several theaters and galleries, the Folk Arts Theater, the Coconut Palace, and the PICC.
The PICC has two cavernous convention halls, spacious galleries, and a large tent venue beside it that served as the national canvassing center during the national elections in 2016 and 2019.
Medical personnel from the Department of Health, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police will attend to the PUIs and PUMs at these converted facilities, Galvez said.
The AFP will supply some 1,500 beds, and more are coming in from donations and emergency procurement.
"The conversion of the Rizal Coliseum and the World Trade Center will be completed soon. Moreover, the Department of Public Works and Highways is also prepared to expand the capacity of the Philippine General Hospital and other COVID-19 designated hospitals," Galvez added.
Hotels for repatriates
The government is preparing hotels and ships to serve as quarantine areas for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), the NTF chief implementer said.
Malacañang earlier ordered the Department of Tourism to identify hotels that may be used to house PUIs and PUMs. The government's tourism and labor agencies are now getting some 4,000 hotel rooms for repatriated OFWs, Galvez added.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation and the Philippine Coast Guard are working with shipping companies to enlist vessels that can be used to quarantine returning seafarers.
The government has banned only foreigners, not Filipinos, from entering the Philippines during the "enhanced community quarantine" or lockdown of Luzon and many other parts of the country.
The recent arrival of some 168,000 test kits from China, Singapore, and South Korea has made it possible for the government to plan widespread testing for the coronavirus. The scarcity of test kits had hampered the government's ability to keep track of the outbreak and respond commensurately to it.
Also on Tuesday, Galvez said the task force is purchasing up to one million personal protective equipment to enable more health workers to attend to coronavirus patients, PUIs, PUMs, and their colleagues who have had contact with confirmed cases.
Luzon island, home to about half the national population, is set to be on lockdown until April 12. Metro Manila will be on lockdown a couple of days longer – until April 14.
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.