DOH, Comelec officials split on fate of symptomatic voters on May 9

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SHOULD symptomatic voters be allowed to enter polling places to cast their vote on May 9, 2022?

For Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, registered voters who will manifest symptoms of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Election Day should just stay at home.

In a televised public briefing on Friday, April 22, Duque said symptomatic voters must not be allowed entry into polling places on May 9.

“For me, they should not (be allowed to vote). Because we always say that we should isolate those with symptoms,” said Duque.

“Allowing them (to vote) will be the opposite of the policy if we say we should allow them to vote despite having symptoms,” he added.

The Department of Health (DOH) secretary acknowledged, though, that his proposal still needs to be discussed with other stakeholders.

“By and large, my position on the issue is, if you got symptoms, do not go out anymore because you might infect others,” said Duque.

Under existing Commission on Elections (Comelec) protocols, all voters will have to undergo health screening and temperature checks before entering voting centers.

Those detected to have symptoms of Covid-19 will be directed to the isolation polling places, where they can cast their votes.

But for lawyer Ferdinand Gujilde, Comelec Central Visayas spokesperson, and lawyer Jerome Brillantes, Comelec Cebu Provincial Office acting elections supervisor, symptomatic voters should not be deprived of their right to vote in the upcoming local and national elections.

“Having coronavirus disease symptoms is not (one of the basis for) disqualification to vote, exactly why we don’t require vaccination card,” Gujilde told SunStar Cebu on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

He noted that the Comelec resolution is silent on symptomatic voters, adding that it only directs them to isolate those with high body temperature.

Gujilde said voters who register a body temperature of 37.5 degrees or higher on second check at the entrance of the voting centers will be allowed to vote in the isolation polling place intended for them.

Like Duque, DOH 7 Chief Pathologist Dr. Mary Jean Loreche believes voters who are symptomatic on Election Day should stay at home so as not to pass the virus to others.

“This is what we call social responsibility and such should be the standard by which we help protect others,” said Loreche.

For Loreche, temperature scanning may help detect Covid symptoms in a voter on Election Day, but it is not a perfect tool, she said.

One only needs to take paracetamol before going to the polling place and their temperature would be normal when scanned, she lamented.

Loreche said voters with symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, body aches, a general feeling of unwellness and sore throat are better off staying home.

The DOH is also not ruling out the possibility that the May 9 polls will be postponed in areas where there is a high number of Covid-19 cases.

Duque said it is not impossible for the electoral exercise scheduled on May 9, 2022 to be postponed especially in the event of a surge in infection.

“The question is: is it possible to postpone the elections? Yes, of course! It is possible if there are very high number of cases in specific areas,” said Duque.

The health chief assured, however, that they will only push for a postponement once the criteria in the Alert Level System have been met.

“That is always a possibility, but we will stick to our Alert Leveling System,” said Duque, citing the two-week growth rate, average daily attack rate, and healthcare utilization rate as basis.

Asked if there are areas where elections may be postponed, he said the increase in cases remained insufficient.

“We have some areas where there are positive one-week growth rates. But these are still not enough for us to escalate to Alert Level 2,” he said.

He reiterated his call for everyone to observe the minimum public health standards in a bid to prevent a surge in cases with the elections just 17 days away.

“Once we disregard these minimum public health standards, you can be sure cases will surge,” said the DOH chief.

Duque assured that they are constantly coordinating with the Comelec regarding the conduct of the May 9 polls amid the pandemic.

Following Comelec rules, Gujilde said the election could be postponed on grounds such as force majeure, violence, terrorism, loss of election paraphernalia and other analogous causes that make holding of a free, peaceful and credible elections impossible in any political subdivision.

“It may be possible to postpone the elections because of Covid surge as an analogous cause if it prevents voters from going out to vote on Election Day, but only on certain areas of the country where there is hard lockdown due to high incidence of Covid infection,” the spokesperson said.

But the polls cannot be postponed in the entire country, he added, “because the law contemplates political subdivision, referring to either a province, city, municipality, or barangay.”

Meanwhile, Loreche said the Covid-19 situation in Central Visayas is stable as of April 23, with “very low” daily count of new cases.

And in terms of vaccination coverage in Metro Cebu, Loreche said that local government units are well within the required numbers for both the total eligible population and senior citizens for Alert Level 1 status.

The chief pathologist, however, said vaccination still needs to be ramped up in surrounding areas.

In the entire Cebu Island, only the tri-cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu, along with Talisay City, have so far been deescalated from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 1 status. (MKG / HDT/SunStar Philippines)

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