MANILA, Philippines — The Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has deployed its chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives or CBRNE teams to assist in the house-to-house search for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients.
BFP chief Director Jose Embang Jr. said yesterday these special response units natiowide would help local government units in the implementation of Oplan Kalinga, a government program aimed at relocating COVID patients under home quarantine to state-run quarantine or isolation facilities.
Embang said BFP personnel are well-trained in handling hazardous materials and are also equipped with protective gear.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año ordered the BFP to help local health officials in the search for COVID-19 patients.
Embang said the CBRNE units in Cebu City have been assisting local officials in the transfer of coronavirus patients to quarantine facilities.
Año said the BFP will also intensify its contact tracing efforts as part of the local tracking and monitoring teams.
The new order was made following criticism from lawmakers and the public over Año’s recent pronouncement that policemen would conduct house-to-house search under the new government program Oplan Kalinga to locate COVID patients for transfer to government quarantine facilities.
Año said the criticism is part of the disinformation campaign against the government’s pandemic response.
He gave assurance that there will be no Oplan Tokhang-like arrests against COVID-19 patients, despite the worry of some sectors over the program.
Año had earlier ordered the Philippine National Police to assist local healthcare workers and officials in the house-to-house search.
He assured the public that Oplan Kalinga would not result in abuses.
Año slammed critics for comparing the program to the controversial Oplan Tokhang, a component of the administration’s war on illegal drugs that has resulted in the killing of drug suspects.
PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said yesterday that certain restrictions under Republic Act 10173 or the Data Privacy Act are hampering police efforts to locate COVID patients.
Gamboa said the COVID-19 outbreak could have been under control already if persons suspected to be infected with the virus had been isolated until their results were out.
“Certain restrictions in the data privacy law also affect our contact tracing capability such that we are only 76 percent efficient in NCR (National Capital Region) and similarly lower than the national average in some areas,” he said.
Gamboa did not specify certain provisions of the law which are affecting their contact tracing capability.
The data privacy law ensure that personal information of people are protected.
“If only we can isolate all tested individuals, without violating their individual rights, until such time that test results are known, then we have already solved half the problem of finding these confirmed cases,” he said in a statement.
No forced transfer
The Department of Health (DOH) assured the people yesterday that there will no forced transfer of patients with mild cases of COVID-19 from hospital to temporary treatment or monitoring facilities (TTMF).
In a press briefing, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they will let these patients finish their 14-day quarantine at the hospital or until they become asymptomatic.
“We will not be retroactive but we will be proactive. This means that we will implement the protocol among patients who will come to the hospitals and the hospitals will have to enforce this strictly,” she noted.
The move to place the asymptomatic and mild cases in quarantine facilities is intended to “decongest” hospitals due to the soaring cases in the past two months.
The spike in cases has forced several hospitals in Metro Manila to declare their COVID-19 beds already full or nearing capacity.
As of yesterday, the DOH had recorded 1,841 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 63,001. There were 39,593 active cases, which pertain to the “net” of those who recovered and died of the virus.
DOH said there were 17 new fatalities, raising the total death toll to 1,660 while the number of recoveries jacked up to 21,748 after 311 patients recovered.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon chided yesterday PNP chief Gamboa for his “uncalled for” remarks when he likened the search for COVID-19 patients to hunting criminals.
He said such statements from the PNP chief only add to people’s fears and fuels distrust in the government and police authorities.
“I am deeply disturbed by the remarks of the PNP chief who likened the search for individuals afflicted with coronavirus disease to hunting down criminals,” Drilon said in a statement.
“Such remark is uncalled for. It does not achieve anything but instill fear rather than trust in law enforcers and in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
He cautioned Gamboa and all other officials to be more circumspect in their choice of words.
The individuals afflicted with the virus are not criminals and they should not in any way be viewed as and compared to criminals. “That is very wrong,” he said.
During his visit at the Police Regional Office 6 headquarters in Camp Martin Delgado in Iloilo City recently, Gamboa was quoted to have said: “This plan is like locating a criminal and when you have located one, you have to find his accomplices.”
“When a person suspected of contracting COVID-19 virus resists efforts to bring them to isolation facilities, what happens? Will there be a surge in‘nanlaban’ cases again similar to thousand cases of nanlaban in the PNP’s operation tokhang?” Drilon said.
He said problems arise when the government turns a public health issue into a law and order issue.
“This COVID-19 pandemic is a public health issue and not a simple law and order issue. We must change our frame of mind: the enemy here is the virus not the people,” he stressed. Paolo Romeo, Romina Cabrera, Sheila Crisostomo
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