MASINLOC, Zambales—Local authorities on Monday lifted the lockdown that has paralyzed Barangay Bani here in the last three weeks, finally easing travel in and out of the coal-plant community that became the epicenter of the biggest new coronavirus diseases (Covid-19) outbreak in Zambales.
Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim ordered the lifting of the Bani lockdown following the containment of the outbreak that affected residents and more than a hundred workers at the coal-fired thermal plant owned by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) in the barangay.
Lim noted in an executive order issue last Sunday that “the number of positive cases has prominently declined and the number of recoveries has increased desirably.”
“Considering the foregoing, the return to normal is called for in order to boost the economy of the barangay and to allow [residents] to recover from the setback brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added.
The mayor first ordered the lockdown of Bani and the neighboring Sitio Relocation in Barangay Taltal on August 20 after 20 coal plant workers tested positive for Covid-19 virus in just a matter of 5 days.
The outbreak, which was traced to a contractual worker brought into the plant from Muntinlupa City, spread like wildfire in the community because hundreds of laborers hired from Manila were bunked together in barracks outside the power plant, said Rolex Estella, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk-Reduction and Management Office.
Lim extended the lockdown and the attendant intensive contact-tracing in the community on August 28 after 99 new cases were confirmed on August 24, days after the start of mass testing in the community.
Eventually, the Bani outbreak recorded a total of 232 cases, almost 63 percent of the provincial total. Of these, 104 were workers from outside Masinloc, while 128 were residents, 98 of whom were from Bani.
Estella told the BusinessMirror that there were many cases when infected workers passed on the virus to family members. SMC agreed to include them in the mass testing ordered by the provincial government at the expense of the company, he added.
Of the 2,494 persons swabbed in the Bani community, he said 594 of them were family members of local coal-plant workers.
“They were also RT-PCR [reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction] tested, and were isolated while awaiting results,” Estella said. “Those who tested negative were sent home; those positive were brought to the PRMMH [President Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Hospital], which is the dedicated Covid-19 facility in the province.”
He added that those who tested positive, except for the index case, were asymptomatic. “They were in good health while in isolation and nobody was ever in severe or critical condition.”
As of now, the worst appears to be over. Masinloc Municipal Secretary Glenn Elayda said that the last batch of swab tests made on 38 suspect cases on Wednesday last week all yielded negative results.
Meanwhile, among the 232 confirmed cases, those recovered are catching up fast, too. Records from the Masinloc Municipal Health Office showed that from the 49 recoveries announced on August 28, the number grew to 135 on September 2 and then to 153 on September 5, exactly a month after Patient Zero tested positive and Bani’s Covid-19 nightmare began.
This left just a total of 79 active cases—52 among the 128 locals who tested positive, and 27 among the 104 workers from outside Zambales.
Image credits: Henry Empeño