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Gains from ECQ 'wasted again' with no concrete changes done — HPAAC

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Gains from ECQ 'wasted again' with no concrete changes done â HPAAC
Bumper-to-bumper traffic along Marcos Highway at the boundary of Marikina and Antipolo cities in Rizal as police flag down motorists on the first day of the reimplementation of enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and nearby provinces on Monday, March 29, 2021.

MANILA, Philippines — A health workers' group on Sunday said the short-term intervention of an Enhanced Community Quarantine "seems to have been wasted again" with crucial changes to contain the surge in COVID-19 cases yet to be done.

Malacañang announced earlier Sunday that the 'NCR Plus' bubble will transition to modified ECQ until end of April beginning Monday. Details, however, are scant, with spokesperson Harry Roque saying changes will be discussed when MECQ is already in effect.

But even before this move, the group Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 said officials have not yet addressed bottlenecks and have not implemented needed reforms to the country's health system. 

"The government still has no clear plans and efforts to fix the root causes," HPAAC said in a statement. "This ECQ may have slowed down the spread, but the numbers are still perilously high."

Members of the group said the odds of already demoralized health workers' success are overwhelmed by gaps in referral of patients as well as on isolation and vaccine rollout efforts. 

'No unity of command and effort'

HPAAC in end-March said government should take the time to rethink its pandemic response during the ECQ. Two weeks later, it said there is still an inefficiency in getting patients to the appropriate facilities with "no unity of command and effort" between responses of the Department of Health and that from local governments.

"This is why the sick and their families desperately find their own way across overflowing hospitals in the NCR hotspots, crowding out services in neighboring provinces and cities," it said, as it stressed that an incident management team should be set up for a Metro Manila-wide response. 

They added that the country's "fragmented" test-trace-treat strategy has resulted in the failure to immediately isolate possible COVID-19 patients and close contacts. 

"Interoperability of existing digital solutions is saddled by bureaucratic red tape and conflicts of interest," HPAAC added. "Our demand: pass an enabling law that will compel data sharing through an integrated ICT infrastructure."

Apart from the two, the group said vaccines have not been fully utilized amid shortages and inefficiencies in rollout. It urged government to reorder its inoculation program to increase vaccinations, and "achieve set targets without compromises in safety caused by inadvertent queues and crowding in vaccination areas."

Further, HPAAC said government should invest more on social safety nets and provide support to populations at risk.

"Should these demands continue to be ignored, we will remain in this vicious cycle," the group warned. "The sick will die unattended, the people will continue to face hunger, and our economy will plummet into further recession."

Government vowed to increase testing efforts as NCR Plus entered ECQ. But in the past week, the highest number of screenings done was at only 40,868 on April 10, while the lowest was at 21,537 on April 5. 

On April 11, a day before the shift to MECQ, officials tallied 11,681 additional infections, after seeing over 12,000 in the last two days. 

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE HEALTH WORKERS MODIFIED ENHANCED COMMUNITY QUARANTINE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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