IBA, Zambales — No, Zambales is not about to activate any “tsismosa brigade” in the fight against the new coronavirus disease (Covid-19), but it will rely instead on conscientious barangay folks to provide reliable information to help keep their own communities free of virus infection.
Gov. Hermogenes E. Ebdane Jr. sounded this off on Friday, as he ordered local government units and health and police officials to re-impose strict border controls following a resurgence in the number of Covid-19 infections in the province last week.
“There is a need to revive strict border controls because of the new cases that came up,” the governor said, adding that accurate information from neighborhood clusters in the barangay level would strengthen monitoring and reporting of Covid-19 cases and prevent further outbreak.
Citing records from the Provincial Health Office (PHO), Ebdane said that Covid-19 cases were already declining in June when not one new case was recorded for up to two weeks at a stretch.
“But when border controls were eased down when Zambales was placed under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), new cases began to rise,” Ebdane noted.
“From zero active case on July 1, we recorded three new cases on July 4; one on July 5; one on July 10; one on July 14; one on July 15; two on July 17; one on July 20; five on July 22; and another two today (July 24),” Ebdane said.
The governor explained that all the recent cases of infected individuals are newly-arrived residents, repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), or persons who recently travelled to areas with high Covid-19 incidence.
However, Ebdane said that reports reaching his office indicated that some travelers from general community quarantine (GCQ) areas did not declare the truth about their places of origin, thereby increasing the likelihood of virus transmission by asymptomatic persons.
To counter this, Ebdane gave instructions for a “reverse cascade” of information to elicit information from barangays and other sources on the ground.
“This might work better because it will be easier to monitor a new face in the neighborhood, especially in the provinces when people in a community know each other,” the governor explained.
The new set-up would require barangay officials to register new arrivals with the municipal government. The newcomers would then be required by town officials to undergo Covid testing, and while waiting for results, would have to stay in an isolation facility.
However, even if the newcomers get a negative result, they would still be required to stay in the quarantine facility for 14 days.
Ebdane said the provincial government, through the Provincial Health Office, has already administered rapid tests to around 60,000 residents so far, and is still continuing to do so.
“That is our formula for arriving at zero-Covid,” Ebdane pointed out. “But the problem started when we began to relax border controls and people started pouring in and visiting,” he added.
Ebdane said he has since ordered the mayors of the 13 municipalities here to monitor travelers coming in and going out of the province and to require health certificates among travelers immediately. The same order was given to the provincial police command, the Provincial Health Office, and the Provincial Repatriation Committee, which is in charge of assisting returning OFWs.
Ebdane, however, assured his constituents that even with the re-imposition of strict border controls, the Zambales government will not go back to requiring quarantine passes.
“The people also need their freedoms,” the governor said. “But I would require them to strictly follow all health and safety protocols nonetheless.”
Nearby communities had also reported new Covid-19 cases following the easing of travel restrictions when they were placed under MGCQ.
Olongapo, which has reported a total of 23 confirmed cases, announced three more on Wednesday, July 22 — all related to a person with a history of travel to Manila.
Even the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, which had remained Covid-free since the March lockdown, reported three active cases among residents and seven among guests or transients after its MGCQ status brought an influx of visitors.