Agencies urged: Take advantage of extended state of calamity
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - September 20, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Bong Go urged all government agencies to use the one-year extension of the state of calamity to reexamine capabilities and improve the response against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Go, chair of the Senate committee on health and demography, lauded President Duterte’s Proclamation No. 1021 extending the state of calamity from Sept. 13, 2020, to Sept. 12, 2021.

“As the COVID-19 virus continues to threaten the public’s health and safety, it is imperative that we continue to remain vigilant and focused on preventing a bigger outbreak as well as addressing the urgent needs facing our people,” Go said.

“With the end of the six months-long state of calamity, I call on all government agencies to use this time to reexamine how we can improve efforts to combat this virus, reevaluate our capabilities, review the lessons we’ve learned and consider new legislative solutions that may strengthen our response to future public health emergencies,” Go added.

On March 16, the President signed Proclamation No. 929 which placed the country under a state of calamity for a period of six months and imposed a community quarantine throughout the island of Luzon. Other areas in the country were eventually placed under varying quarantine measures.

The declaration gave the government and local government units the tools needed to access funds for its response efforts as well as to intensify government response measures, such as easing procurement processes, mandatory reporting and enforcing quarantine and disease control prevention measures.

With the said extension, Go called on the Department of Health to use the opportunity to plan, implement and strengthen its efforts against COVID-19 and other health threats, particularly in the area of disease surveillance and contact tracing.

In this regard, Go pushed for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1528 which he filed that aims to amend Republic Act 11332, also known as the “Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.”

The proposed measure will strengthen disease surveillance and control capabilities by improving contact tracing capacities and testing effectiveness.

It also mandates the establishment of sub-national laboratories in every DOH-run regional hospital in the country. The laboratories shall have the capacity to undertake testing, diagnosis, control and prevention of infectious diseases.

It also gives LGUs the freedom to set up their own laboratories subject to the accreditation and approval of the health department.

The bill likewise directs LGUs to establish their own epidemiology and surveillance units.

Finally, SBN 1528 mandates the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines to assist the DOH in its contact tracing efforts.

To complement these efforts, Go also called for the urgent passage of SBN 1451 or the “Medical Reserve Corps Act of 2020” which shall give the health secretary the authority to mobilize, with compensation, health-trained individuals during times of national emergencies to increase the existing health force.

If passed, all individuals with degrees in medicine, nursing, medical technology and other health-related fields who have yet to obtain their licenses may be deployed to support emergency response efforts.

“The reality is, our medical personnel are strained by the number of COVID-19 patients which hinders our capacity to combat the disease immediately and effectively. Thus, we urgently see the need for a Medical Reserve Corps. In his recent State of the Nation Address, the President has acknowledged the need for this measure and encouraged Congress to pass a law instituting the Medical Reserve Corps,” Go said during a hearing conducted by the Senate committee on health on Sept. 15.

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