Airports to house labs to swab foreign arrivals

OPENING the country to foreign travelers and the return of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) stranded in other countries could be seen as causes of a possible "second wave" of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the country, an official of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) said on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., IATF-EID chief implementer, said to prepare for a "second wave," they plan to put up additional Covid-19 testing laboratories in major entry points in the country, including one at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

Galvez made known the plan during a virtual press briefing held in Cebu City Saturday afternoon.

With Galvez were IATF-EID deputy chief implementer Secretary Vivencio “Vince” Dizon, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino and Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes and Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Junard Chan.

Galvez said with the country slowly reopening its doors to foreign travelers to reactivate the economy, the national government is expecting the number of Covid-19 cases to rise.

Complacency

“The influx of the importation, the importation meaning those will be coming from abroad; if we open the travel and also if we open the tourism businesses and if we are not prepared for it, there’s a possibility of a spike of new cases,” said Galvez.

Complacency can also cause the second wave, said Galvez.

“We saw the possible source of the second wave is complacency... if we lower our guard, the second wave may attack. It may catch us off guard,” said Galvez.

To address this, Galvez announced that the government plans to establish laboratories at airports.

Everyone entering the country will be swabbed at a “one-stop shop” and will be quarantined while waiting for their results, said Galvez.

Dizon said the plan is to build a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) molecular laboratory with a 2,000 capacity at the MCIA.

Dizon said laboratories will also be installed in other airports in the country.

He said the IATF is working on the protocol to be implemented in ports together with the Department of Health (DOH) and other concerned agencies.

SunStar Cebu tried to get the reaction of officials from the tourism sector to no avail.

Testing capacity

Galvez also wants local government units to prepare for the influx of returning OFWs, especially since some companies in the Middle East will be closing.

Dizon said they are also working to increase the testing capacity of Cebu and Central Visayas to up to 10,000 tests every day within the next two months.

He said automated extraction machines will be installed at the Cebu TB Reference Laboratory Molecular Facility for Covid-19 Testing at the DOH regional office and the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center Sub-National Laboratory in Cebu City, which will increase the capacity to 2,000 tests daily.

Another 2,000-capacity modular laboratory, which is donated by Unilab, will be located at the Cebu Doctors’ Hospital, said Dizon.

He said the Philippine National Red Cross will also set up another laboratory capable of conducting 4,000 tests daily.

“The key to really preventing another wave of this virus and also the key to slowly rebuilding the economy is to build up our testing capacity for PCR tests. That is the key,” he said.

Awaiting recommendation

Dizon and Galvez visited Cebu to personally check the situation in the island, especially since Cebu City has a high number of Covid-19 cases.

As for the Project Balik Buhay (PBB), DOH-Central Visayas Director Jaime Bernadas said the health agency is yet to complete the analysis on the result of the mass rapid testing.

“The PBB has just been concluded and the analysis will be done in the next three days. It will be analyzed, then we’ll identify communities where there are clusters of cases and where there is absence of cases,” said Bernadas.

Labella also said he will wait for the recommendation of health experts before deciding on the City’s status.

“We have to refer to our medical experts before we come up with a decision on whether to convert (the enhanced community quarantine status),” he said. (JJL)