EXPLAINER: IATF’s Feliciano sees slowdown of Covid cases in Cebu City in 2 weeks. Problems at city’s EOC resolved. Which vaccine and when? A waiting game’: Casas

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

SITUATION ON COVID SPIKE. Retired general Melquiades Feliciano, Visayas chief implementer of the national task force against Covid-19, told the Cebu City Council Wednesday, February 3, that the increase to double-digit figures in positive cases in the city in January, from single-digit numbers in December, were caused by:

(a) Christmas activities and other mass gatherings of people and relaxed enforcement of health protocols during the holidays;

(b) Failure of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to “adjust immediately” to the increase in infections.

BACKLOG, CORRECTION AT EOC. Feliciano indicated logistics problem and “affected” morale at EOC, which he said resulted in slower response with “intervention” programs, especially extracting positive cases and moving them to an isolation center.

As of Wednesday, in his briefing to the City Council in a virtual regular session, Feliciano said there were 400 infected persons who still had to be isolated.

Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy chief implementer at EOC, said Thursday, February 4, the backlog reached at one point to 1,800 un-isolated positives. That was about two weeks ago when infections started to rise to three-digit figures. Isolation centers such as the Noah Complex at South Road Properties were then already filled up. Delay in isolating one infected person could affect an entire family or household, Feliciano said.

But corrections were made, the retired general -- whom, with his wife, Cebu City honored last November as the city’s first adopted couple – informed the councilors, thanking the city officials for the prompt response to the emergency center’s problem. More isolation centers have been opened or re-opened. Personnel earlier taken out from EOC were restored.

EOC, Feliciano said, is now “back to its original form.” And “we hope we will be able to control” the spread of infections in one to two weeks, Feliciano said. Encouraging indicators in the local upsurge are the still low mortality rate and “only 25%” in critical care utilization rate.

INQUIRIES ON VACCINES. The city councilors had a flood of questions about vaccines for Covid-19, which apparently reflected the interest of their constituents in the issue, including these:

[1] Which brand of vaccine has the national government selected? How safe will it be?

[2] When will the vaccines arrive in Cebu for the vaccination to start?

[3] What does the national government require of the local government in the vaccination program? What equipment will the LGU rent or buy?

[4] Can the private sector purchase its own vaccines? Will private professionals be tapped to help the government administer them?

IATF’s Feliciano had no answer to the most curiosity-driven questions: what brand and when. He doesn’t know or won’t tell the vaccine of choice or the date of the first shipment.

He repeated what IATF officials said before: an LGU or a private firm or group may buy its own vaccines but with the participation of the government in a tripartite agreement.

He gave a glimpse though on rollout preparations, such as the vaccines going into the regional hub and from there to the LGU’s

vaccination center storage facility and conducting the inoculation at 10 gyms or covered courts.

TALKS WITH SUPPLIERS. Atty. Floro Casas Jr., city administrator or manager, informed the City Council that the Vaccine Board created by Mayor Edgardo Labella made exploratory talks with Pfizer and AstraZeneca but still had to seal any agreement.

Casas said the mayor is made to understand that the national government will supply the vaccines and the LGU will buy only for the gap that it decides must be filled. Feliciano, on the other hand, told the City Council that the national government will take care of the vaccines, without stating any limit on volume or number. IATF, however, reportedly will set the allocation for each area or region.

Casas said the local government awaits the decision of the central government. “It’s a waiting game,” Casas said. The city has been saying it is “ready to buy” but has not bought any vaccine yet.

Vice Mayor Mike Rama, presiding officer, said he agrees with Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia that getting the vaccines “is not a race.” That seems to contradict “the science of it,” adopted by most other countries in the world and even some LGUs in the Philippines, namely that the faster a community achieves “herd immunity” by vaccination, the more lives are saved.

LGU’S SPENDING. Councilor Raymond Garcia, minority floor leader and finance committee chairman, wanted to know from Feliciano whether the city must provide freezer or storage facility for the vaccines and supply personnel at vaccination sites.

Garcia needed information to decide how much more funds his committee will recommend for LGU’s role in the vaccination phase.

Like answer to other questions on vaccines, Feliciano’s reply: Wait for the guidelines, which will be out in a week or son.

Earlier, the mayor and the City Council agreed to add in a supplemental budget another P100 million to the P400 million it had earlier included in the 2021 general appropriation ordinance approved last December. That would be on top of the P3.5 billion the Sanggunian advanced to the mayor for expenses related to the anti-Covid campaign, liquidation of which the City Council has been pressing for but still has to get.

How much the city spends for the vaccines depends on how much the national government delivers, which actually cannot be determined yet from any of the IATF officials’ statements, which are not yet specified in writing.

VM, COUNCILORS GIVE THEMSELVES BIGGER ROLE. Vice Mayor Rama and the City Council have been seeking larger function in the anti-Covid response, not just legislating funds for it. And in this week’s session, it decided to give that to themselves.

On mass motion, the Sanggunian created a group of “convenors” led by VM Rama as chairman, Casas as vice chairman (at first it was co-chairman), and a number of councilors, purportedly to adopt a “plan of action,” including an information campaign on inoculation, and oversee the rollout and administration of the vaccines.

Rama told the City Council he “bluntly” told the mayor that while the chief executive was still not physically present at City Hall, the vice mayor, “as chairman of the Sanggunian committee on health and its committee on the anti-Covid campaign,” would lead the vaccination part of the city’s response to the health crisis.