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Groups call for better pandemic response as Metro Manila curbs ease

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Groups call for better pandemic response as Metro Manila curbs ease
Non-San Juan residents receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the Theater Mall in San Juan City on Sept. 14, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Groups on Thursday urged government to address weaknesses in data collection and in pandemic response as Metro Manila eases restrictions under a new quarantince classification system.

In a statement, the COVID-19 Action Network said the government must address bottlenecks in pandemic response and making sure COVID-19 patients get treatment.

"Beyond the fact that they flip-flop on their decisions to tighten or loosen mobility restrictions, the real issue is whether their decisions have sound basis," the group said. "Easing quarantine restrictions when cases remain high and when the health system can no longer cope is shocking."

Health authorities have reported record-high coronavirus cases in weeks. The highest since the pandemic hit last year was seen on September 11, when the country posted 26,303 additional infections.

Despite cases yet to go down, the government has eased some curbs in Metro Manila, which it placed under Alert Level 4 of a five-level range.

The group reiterated their previous calls to improve the country's COVID referral network. It said patients "are still lost in their attempt to navigate" through the health system as local and national services remain uncoordinated. 

"Queueing and logistical issues still surround the current One Hospital Command Center, and it is still limited to hospital-based care," CAN added. 

Last month, the One Hospital Command Center said it saw a 200% increase in calls for assistance and appealed for understanding for those it was unable to attend to.

Among the group's proposals include setting up a central database for digital contact tracing, addressing air circulation in mass transport, workplaces and public places, as well as providing financial aid. 

It also called on government to ensure equal distribution of COVID-19 jabs to areas outside Metro Manila and address vaccine hesitancy. 

"CAN calls a spade a spade," it added. "The COVID response in the Philippines is failing, and necessary steps must be immediately implemented to prevent bigger losses."

Improve tracing, testing, aid distribution

In a separate statement, Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 made a similar call to improve pandemic response to prevent future surges with the following: 

  • integrated digital contact tracing
  • increased testing
  • appropriate compensation and recognition for healthcare workers
  • distribution of ayuda
  • enhanced vaccination
  • better coordination between facilities and government units
  • improved air circulation in all facilities

"We need these improvements to achieve longer relief from the pandemic," HPAAC said.

Why ease restrictions when cases are up?

HPAAC also questioned the decision to put Metro Manila under Alert Level 4, citing the increase in cases.

"We now register more cases than at any other time since the pandemic started. Health facilities are overwhelmed, resulting in patients dying unattended at home, in ambulances, or in corridors," it said, adding that data that the government uses to determine alert levels "does not reflect the true situation on the ground."

"We therefore strongly urge the government to acknowledge and address the inadequacies of our data reporting system that forms the basis of the alert levels."

METRO MANILA
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