Palace: Gov't might not be able to test everyone at evacuation centers
Photo taken on Nov. 16, 2020, shows residents of Barangay Marana 2nd, City of Ilagan waiting to receive relief goods. They were isolated during the onslaught of flooding wrought by Typhoon Ulysses.
Released/Isabela PIO

Palace: Gov't might not be able to test everyone at evacuation centers

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - November 17, 2020 - 12:41pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:01 p.m.) — The Province of Isabela, which was recently struck by historic flooding amid the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses, does not have enough funds to screen people in shelters for coronavirus, its governor said Tuesday. 

"We have no money for that ... massive testing in evacuation centers. Many of our evacuation centers were also submerged, by the size of the river, by the amount of water that [came from] the river," Isabela Gov. Rodito Albano III said partially in Filipino during an interview with state-run PTV. 

Whatever resources the province does have, Albano added, will be redirected towards upgrading its rescue facilities and evacuation centers. 

When asked if minimum health standards were being enforced at evacuation centers, the governor said: "Now that there is no more flooding, they can be followed correctly." 

"But the important thing is to strengthen the immune systems of the people here first. Because if their immune systems weakens.... they will definitely be infected with COVID-19," Albano added in Filipino. 

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council data last updated on 9 a.m. Tuesday logs a total 21,324 persons — or 4,872 families — who have been forced to flee their homes in Isabela. Of these, 1,890 individuals, equivalent to 520 families, are in evacuation centers. 

The governor said the province has recorded three dead and two missing due to Ulysses. Cagayan, Isabela and Marikina City are currently under a state of calamity following the recent onslaught of typhoons. 

Palace: There will be testing at evacuation centers

The same NDRRMC situation report shows that 283,656 individuals — or 70, 784 families — are staying in evacuation centers nationwide as a result of the typhoon onslaught. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque during a virtual briefing said those in shelters would be screened for the virus using antigen tests. 

"I assure you that the government's policy to provide COVID testing in evacuation centers is in place," Roque said in Filipino. 

He added that these tests would be free and that this policy was decided on by the government before the recent string of typhoons that lashed the country. 

However, he cautioned that not everyone in evacuation centers would be tested. 

"I cannot ensure that they will all be given [COVID-19 tests]. But there will be testing at evacuation centers, especially for those with symptoms," Roque said in Filipino.

Gov’t urged to prevent coronavirus ‘superspreading’ at evacuation centers

In October, Advocacy group Agap Banta warned that even though the country has invested significantly in strengthening the preparedness and response capabilities in national, local and community levels, the overlapping of another disaster with the pandemic response and recovery would be “overwhelming.”

Last week, as the Philippines grappled with the wreckage caused by three typhoons in as many weeks, senators urged government agencies to ensure that the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos would not lead to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros and called on the health and interior departments to provide free face masks and alcohol at shelters. She also called on the health department to deploy doctors to evacuation centers to check for symptoms and other health concerns, "especially for the senior citizens, children and immunocompromised," and to ensure quick isolation and referral to hospitals if needed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Win Gatchalian called on the social welfare department to ensure that relief efforts address the needs of the children affected by the typhoons, including their safety from COVID-19.

He also stressed the importance of having a permanent evacuation center in every city and municipality to avoid the use of classrooms as temporary shelters and delays in the resumption of classes. The onslaught of typhoons have necessitated the use of public school classrooms as evacuation centers, many of which went unused this school year as the pandemic forced a shift to distance learning.

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