Garcia invites IATF experts to shed light on protocols

GOV. Gwendolyn Garcia has invited experts and consultants of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to attend a meeting with the Provincial Board at the Capitol Social Hall, so they could settle what protocols must be implemented in Cebu Province for overseas Filipino workers and returning overseas Filipinos arriving at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision that the IATF protocols must be enforced in Cebu, the Department of Health Central Visayas (DOH 7) continues to follow the amended Provincial Ordinance 2021-04, which sets the guidelines for the swabbing and quarantine of returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs) and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who arrive in Cebu.

Garcia extended her invitation to the IATF experts who were cited by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III during the Senate hearing on Tuesday, June 15, which she attended through a video conference.

The governor wants the experts to present their data to the local leaders, including the IATF’s “critique” on Cebu Province’s protocols for the swab testing and quarantine of OFWs and ROFs.

“I’ll be asking our Provincial Board members to revisit the ordinance, and this time to invite the technical advisers or medical experts that Secretary Duque continues to refer to,” she said during the Senate hearing.

Garcia said she did not receive a copy of the “critique” conducted by the IATF, which is led by Duque.

To recall, the President had instructed Duque to critique the current protocols of the Cebu Provincial Government.

During the hearing, Duque accepted the invitation and he promised to provide the Provincial Government with a copy of the IATF study.

Amended ordinance

The amendments to Provincial Ordinance 2021-04 reflect the requirements contained in a memorandum that Garcia issued on May 20, 2021 and released on June 5.

The changes still differ from IATF’s arrival protocols, except for the swab test on the seventh day.

The IATF requires all arriving travelers, except those fully vaccinated in the Philippines, to undergo facility-based quarantine for 10 days and undergo a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for the virus on the seventh day.

Even with a negative result, a traveler is required to complete 10 days in a quarantine facility and spend an additional four days under home quarantine.

Cebu’s amended ordinance still requires arriving ROFs and OFWs to take a swab test upon arrival at the MCIA. The test is free and is conducted by the DOH 7.

The travelers wait for the test result in a pre-booked quarantine hotel. If positive, they are to abide by the treatment protocols set by the DOH central office.

If negative, ROFs and OFWs who are not residents of Cebu may proceed to their destinations. Their local government units (LGUs) will be “responsible for the second RT-PCR test to be conducted on the seventh day.”

Cebu residents who test negative for the virus may also proceed to their LGUs, where they will now undergo “facility or home quarantine” for the remainder of the IATF-mandated 14-day quarantine for inbound travelers.

Duterte’s decision to enforce the IATF swab test and quarantine protocols for arriving OFWs and ROFs came after the Office of the Executive Secretary’s memorandum extending the diversion of flights from MCIA to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) expired.

International flights bound for MCIA were first diverted from May 29 to June 5. The diversion of flights to the NAIA was extended until 11:59 p.m. of June 12, to ensure that the IATF protocols to prevent Covid-19 transmission are also enforced in Cebu.

Inbound international flights resumed at the MCIA on Sunday, June 13, but Cebu’s arrival protocols were enforced again.

Meeting stakeholders

After the Senate hearing, Garcia held a meeting with various stakeholders to discuss the Province’s measures against Covid-19.

During the meeting, DOH 7 spokesperson Dr. Mary Jean Loreche said they will continue to swab OFWs and ROFs who arrive at MCIA, saying this does not violate the IATF protocols as the OFWs and ROFs will be swabbed again on the seventh day.

“It’s just that we have to do some innovative changes, primarily because testing upon arrival is an enhancement of the security measures,” she said.

Loreche said they would be able to immediately isolate a person who tested positive upon arrival.

“We will not be allowing them to go around,” she said.

Cortes’ action

Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes said he will discuss with the City Council and its finance committee the possibility of the City Government providing assistance to OFWs and ROFs who are Mandaue residents, now that the President has decided to enforce the IATF protocols.

Cortes has yet to announce the type of assistance the City will provide.

For now, Cortes said, the City is still providing free quarantine stay at the former Cebu North Bus Terminal in Barangay Subangdaku, which is now used as an isolation facility for the OFWs and ROFs.

He said local leaders do not have a choice but to abide by the President’s order.

“Now that the national government has spoken and to also have uniformity in implementing protocols, we don’t have a choice. It would be difficult to deviate from the mandate of the IATF, considering that it is the policy-making body on Covid-19. So we don’t have a choice but to follow,” said Cortes in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Cortes had been vocal in his support for the swabbing of ROFs and OFWs upon arrival at MCIA before Duterte made up his mind on enforcing the IATF protocols in Cebu.

The mayor said he saw the wisdom of the protocols set by the Provincial Government as these are for humanitarian reasons, not to burden the OFWs and ROFs. (ANV, KFD)