MANILA, Philippines — The government on Sunday vowed to ensure that COVID-19 safety protocols are followed in the barangay level to contain the pandemic despite the relaxing of quarantine measures in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said modules may be distributed to inform the public about the importance of COVID-19 preventive measures.
Nograles, also the co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF), noted that President Duterte himself has reminded local executives to enforce more stricly preventive protocols like physical distancing, wearing of face masks and face shields, and frequent handwashing.
"Our next step is to drill down to the barangay level… We are coordinating with barangays," Nograles told radio station dzBB.
"We are creating modules and we are really coordinating with the barangays down to the sub-villages so our modules on prevention and detection can reach them," he added.
Nograles said the modules would also contain information about the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic or CODE protocol, which seeks to find COVID-19 active cases through coordination between health officials and local communities.
"It's really in the hands of our countrymen. Regardless of the guidelines we formulate… even if we enforce them but people make excuses not to follow them, we would have a problem," he added.
Nograles said cases are being filed against establishments that violated safety protocols and local officials who fail to enforce them.
The quarantine classification of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal — collectively known as National Capital Region plus — has been downgraded from modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) to general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions.
Under the new classification, which took effect last May 15 and will be enforced until the end of the month, only essential travel to and from NCR Plus are allowed and indoor dine-in services are permitted as long as only up to 20% of the venue capacity is filled up. Up to half of the seating capacity may be filled up for outdoor or al fresco dining while religious gatherings are allowed up to ten percent of the venue capacity.
Santiago City, Ifugao and Zamboanga City will be under MECQ while Apayao, Baguio City, Benguet, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Abra, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Batangas, Puerto Princesa, Iligan City, Davao City and Lanao del Sur will be classified as GCQ until May 31. The rest of the Philippines will be under the most relaxed modified general community quarantine, where almost all types of businesses can operate.
Nograles rejects 'premium' test label
In the same interview, Nograles said there should be no distinction when it comes to COVID-19 tests. He pointed out that prioritizing the release of the results of tests labeled as "premium" would allow the skipping of lines.
"Personally, the 'premium' label should not be attached to that because it will result in the skipping of lines. Even if you had the test first, those with priority premium labels will be ahead of you. We are coordinating with laboratories on this," Nograles said in Filipino.
Nograles also cited the need to harmonize the government's contact tracing and prevention efforts, areas that some officials have described as the weakest links in the pandemic response.
"We have to lessen the number of days between detection and isolation. If I undergo a test, the release of the test results should be fast and we have to isolate those who tested positive immediately," the cabinet official said.
Nograles said those who took COVID-19 tests have the responsibility to isolate themselves while waiting for their results.
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