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Opinion

Tag, stamp and guard

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

The escape or slip out of “Poblacion Girl” and “Massage Girl” from their quarantine facilities along with the “drive away” of the couple that went straight to their residence after encountering problems during check-in procedures upon arrival from abroad did not require superpowers or James Bond special skills. All they had to do was walk away or drive away until the guards noticed, or all hell broke loose just like in the movies. If any good comes out of these “escapes” from quarantine, it is that it finally called attention to a long existing defect in the “hotel quarantine” model in the Philippines.

For starters, you immediately have a problem when you entrust a major responsibility to institutions that are not and were never intended for the purpose. Hotels are neither hospitals nor prisons where constant monitoring of patients or detainees is a way of life. It is in the nature of hospitals and prisons to confine guests for their wellbeing or safe keeping, while hotels and hostels cater to the free movement, pampering and service of guests.

Given that reality, hotels don’t transform or step up to the purpose by mere declaration of the IATF or DOH, not even with the “supervision” of the Bureau of Quarantine or by posting guards from the Philippine Coast Guard. Such transition or repurpose and retooling require a thorough and systematic conversion of dedicated facilities and equipment, and the intense training of hotel staff and security personnel in order to shift their minds and attitude that they are now effectively confining and bodily securing guests!

Based on past interviews of mayors and a more recent one with Bong Bengzon, executive director of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association of the Philippines (PHOAP), we were informed that there are three types of quarantine facility. One for arriving passengers undergoing testing and waiting for test results, one for guests going through the mandatory quarantine period and another for multiple use both as a quarantine facility and as the standard hotel for staycations and dining. Bengzon shared that such facilities are usually split up or separated by way of dedicated entry and exits and often with dedicated floors so that people undergoing quarantine have no contact with regular guests.

Unfortunately, everyone knows and admits that, unlike developed countries or high alert territories such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the Philippines has not utilized modern surveillance or monitoring tools such as electronic bracelets or ankle bracelets that have alarms and sensors that will trigger an alarm or show up on security monitors the minute that a “detainee” crosses boundaries and electronic markers. In Hong Kong, a Filipina traveler shared that when she opened her door just to look outside in the hallway, security personnel showed up within minutes and told her off and warned her of a very stiff fine.

One evidence that the “quarantine function” has not set in among hotels locally is based on the simple matter of quarantine guests not being issued an “identity bracelet” similar to the ones issued by hospitals. This technology is so basic and readily available, whether you use the hospital plastic tag or the more sophisticated bar code type that registers on a nearby computer. I saw this used at a major conference in Davao City where organizers were monitoring who entered the lecture hall, who left the hall and how often they entered, exited and at what time. Participants who sneaked to go “malling” where easily identified.

If hotels can’t afford the fancy electronic bracelets or bar-code type plastic bands, then they can use the most basic system of using stamp pads and indelible ink also used in trade show entrances to mark guests for the day. All of the above of course requires that security personnel or CCTV cameras are in place to complete the system.

The bottom line is that if a hotel is a “quarantine hotel,” guests on the Q floor are not supposed to go out of their rooms, not even be in contact with hotel staff or visitors, much less be allowed to go to hotel outlets such as restaurants and salons or shops. They are not allowed to leave the hotel until given the green light by authorities.

If hotels cannot set up the equipment and perform the required function, they should not be given the status of quarantine hotel. That status should not be issued as a short cut or bridge for hotels to generate business or income during lockdown. Quarantine is a serious matter with disastrous outcomes if not taken seriously.

*      *      *

As expected, there are now “blockbuster” lines or pila among vaccination centers in Metro Manila one day after the Metro Manila Mayors Council and the MMDA announced that unvaccinated persons will no longer be allowed outside their residences except for essential travel and to get needed goods such as food and medicines.

This is not the first time that crowds rushed to vaccination centers when the government announced restrictions on movement for the unvaccinated. The first time we saw this was when President Duterte mused and thought out loud about preventing the unvaccinated from going outside of residences. That was when 4,000 to 5,000 people practically stampeded to vaccination centers.

These incidents should teach LGU executives and legislators that in many instances, giving people a free choice on a matter can be less than ideal, compared to making them pay for their choice. The non-vaxxers had no problem defying or ignoring calls for vaccination because there was no real consequence to their choice until, of course, they got sick. But by then, when so many of them end up in hospitals, their misguided choice would penalize and risk the rest of the vaccinated who can’t go to hospitals, even when suffering from other life threatening diseases not related to COVID and burden the frontline workers that are now overworked and understaffed.

The anti-vaxxers’ decisions is a burden to the state, the public and health workers. Now the tables are turned, they have chosen to be vaccinated!

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