GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 16 March)– The entire province of South Cotabato was placed under preemptive lockdown effective Monday amid fears on the rising confirmed cases and spread of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
South Cotabato Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. issued Executive Order (EO) No. 17 around noon declaring the lockdown and the stricter implementation of control measures against the disease within the province’s 10 towns and lone city.
He said the preemptive lockdown, which includes the implementation of a 10-hour curfew and restriction on non-essential travels to and from the province, “will take effect immediately.”
Tamayo said they came up with the decision following an executive meeting and consultation with other local government officials in the province on Monday morning.
“We need to do this before it’s too late. We have to protect our families and everyone in the province,” he said in a press conference.
Under EO 17, which amended the initial guidelines issued last week by the provincial government, Tamayo said all mass gatherings and meetings such as religious, civic, business and government events and activities are no longer allowed.
Only meetings involving the prevention, control and eradication of COVID-19 will be permitted, he said.
He said non-essential travels to and from the province will be prohibited and only movements involving the health sector, peace and security, COVID-19 response, disaster risk reduction, work-related, and delivery of food and other essential goods will be allowed.
The governor said control checkpoints have been activated in the border highways and in the city and town centers.
He said travellers passing through should present documents that will confirm their destination while the names of persons and plate numbers of vehicles will be recorded.
Tamayo said loitering in public places will be prohibited and a province-wide curfew will be observed from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
He said police and Army personnel will be deployed in public places to disperse and send home the violators.
Minors aged 15-years-old and below as well as those who have no legitimate transactions should remain in their homes, he said.
“We now consider everybody as PUM (persons under monitoring) for Covid-19 and encouraged to just stay home,” he said.
Tamayo said all government-run tourism destinations and other public facilities like the Seven Falls in Lake Sebu, and the South Cotabato Sports Complex and South Cotabato Gymnasium and Cultural Center will be closed.
He said the operations of government offices, especially the frontline units, will continue, but encouraged them to deploy “skeletal force.”
Private offices and establishments are encouraged “to go on holiday” during the lockdown period while drivers and operators of public utility vehicles are enjoined to reduce their loading to 50 percent, he said.
“No one is exempted (from these policies). The police and military are authorized to make necessary actions to ensure proper compliance from the public, if necessary,” he said.
As of Monday morning, Tamayo said the province remains free from COVID-19 but acknowledged that the threat on its spread is becoming “imminent, glaring and closer.”
The governor said the province is facing a big problem with the lack of available testing kits in the area and the suspension of flights from Metro Manila or the National Capital Region and other areas due to the community quarantine.
Last week, he said it took 10 days for swab tests from a suspected COVID-19 patient to arrive from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, which is based in Muntinlupa City.
“There are no test kits coming in and we are no longer capable of sending samples to laboratories. We have a lot of PUIs and PUMs and we’re practically on our own now,” he said.
A report from the Integrated Provincial Health Office said the province has a total of 12 patients under monitoring and 570 PUMs.
A total of 544 PUMs were still undergoing the 14-day mandatory home quarantine while 26 have already been cleared.
Of the 12 PUIs, four have tested negative while the results of eight others were still pending.
The number of PUMs increased in the last three days due to the influx of returning residents from NCR, the center of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.
Several special flights were commissioned by airline companies on Sunday to accommodate stranded travellers, including delegates of the Department of Education’s National Festival of Talents and National Schools Press Conference, which were held in Ilagan City, Isabela and Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, respectively. (MindaNews)