DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 June) – The number of COVID-19 cases in Mindanao’s six regions, 27 provinces and 33 cities has breached the 1,000 mark, and is still rising, with 1,015 cases recorded on Tuesday, June 23, a hundred days since community quarantines were imposed, increasing to 1,037 on Wednesday, 1,059 on Thursday, 1,115 on Friday, 1,128 on Saturday and 1,170 by Sunday.
While 771 cases or 66% of 1,170 are from the Davao and Zamboanga regions, the remaining 399 are from the four other regions where an exponential rise in cases has been attributed to the arrival of returning residents – Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) or those who were stranded in their places of work or study in Metro Manila, Cebu and other parts when the lockdown was imposed in mid-March, and Returning Overseas Filipinos (ROFs).
Records tallied by MindaNews from the five regional offices of the Department of Health in Mindanao and the Ministry of Health in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao show a total of 1,015 positives on June 23 and 1,170 by June 28 or 155 more cases in four days.
Mindanao recorded only 194 cases as of April 30. By May 31, the number had risen to 597 or triple the number a month earlier.
Of 1,170 cases as of June 28, the cities of Davao and Zamboanga, which are on extended General Community Quarantine (GCQ), account for 623 or 53.2 % of the Mindanao total: Davao with 411 (35.1 %) and Zamboanga with 212 (18.1%).
Of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities, only these two cities are under GCQ while the rest are under Modified GCQ (MGCQ) until June 30.
While the two cities under GCQ have consistently topped the number of cases Mindanao-wide — Davao City had the New Davao Matina Gallera cockpit as epicenter and Zamboanga the city jail, the easing of travel restrictions in the MGCQ and even in the GCQ areas, which allowed resumption of flights, shipping and inland travel, triggered a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases across Mindanao.
Doubled, Tripled, Quadrupled, Fifteenfold
Local government units (LGUs) here observed health protocols as thousands of returning residents arrived in their airports, seaports and inland borders, but without testing of the returnees through Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) at their point of departure, LGUs on the receiving end found it difficult, even if a number of them did rapid antibody testing to detect who among the arrivals were possible virus carriers, especially since many of those who later tested positive through RT-PCR test, were asymptomatic.
In the four regions placed under MGCQ since June 1, the cases have more than doubled, tripled, quadrupled, even fifteenfold. Various towns and cities which had no confirmed case in the past three months, including those in the five Davao provinces and three Zamboanga provinces suddenly found themselves dealing with several cases.
From May 31, the last day of the GCQ, to the MGCQ period from June 1 to June 28, the number of cases in Caraga region increased fifteenfold — from eight to 116; quadrupled in the Bangsamoro region, from 27 to 123; tripled in Region 10 (Northern Mindanao) from 30 to 101; and more than doubled in Region 12 (Soccsksargen) from 24 to 59.
In Northern Mindanao, according to the DOH regional office, out of 101 cases as of June 28, 69 or 68.3% were LSIs and ROFs.
Lanao del Sur’s cases rose from only nine on May 31 to 84 on June 28.
MGCQ is supposed to be a step away to the “new normal” category.
The IATF defines “new normal” as one that “refers to the emerging behaviors, situations, and minimum public health standards that will be institutionalized in common or routine practices and remain even after the pandemic while the disease is not totally eradicated through means such as widespread immunization. These include actions that will become second nature to the general public as well as policies such as bans on large gatherings that will continue to remain in force.”
On May 31, these four regions accounted for only 89 or 15% out of Mindanao’s 597 cases then. On June 28, they accounted for 399 or 34.1% out of Mindanao’s 1,170 cases.
From 89 cases on May 31, the number rose to 399 or quadrupled in 28 days.
For Secretary Carlito Galvez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and Chief Implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, the rise in numbers is “not exponential.”
“It’s not exponential rise but the effect of the importation from LSIs and ROFs not on community transition,” he told MindaNews on Saturday afternoon.
Galvez said the strategy is “detect (test and trace), isolate, treat, reintegrate (mitigate the impact) and adapt to new normal and emerging situation.”
“Our main focus now is to lead, empower, localize the approach and application of lockdown and quarantine protocols based on the granular situation on the ground,” he said.
CQ to ECQ to GCQ to MGCQ
Mindanao’s provinces and cities declared their respective community quarantines in mid-March, some opting to elevate it to Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) when the cases continued to rise. Davao City declared a community quarantine on March 15, elevated it to ECQ effective 9 p.m. on April 4, supposedly to end on April 19, extended for a week until April 26 but by then the national IATF had extended the city’s ECQ and Davao de Oro’s until May 15.
Zamboanga City was classified under GCQ effective May 1 but appealed to the IATF and was granted reconsideration to remain under ECQ until May 15, as the cases from the COVID-19 outbreak at the Zamboanga City Reformatory Center were then starting to rise. The jail cases account for 181 out of the city’s 212 cases.
The Davao region still tops the number of cases with 526 as of 5 p.m. on June 28, with Davao City’s cases at 411 or 78.1%. On May 31, the region had 348 cases, 300 of these in Davao City. On April 30, when the regional total was only 135, Davao City accounted for 118.
The Zamboanga Peninsula region recorded 245 cases as of June 28 with Zamboanga City recording 212 or 86.5%. On May 31, the region had 160 cases, 154 of them from the city. On April 30, when the regional total was 16, the city had only 11 cases.
When the two cities ended their extended ECQ on May 15, the Mindanao total was only 390 COVID-19 positives, with the cities of Davao and Zamboanga accounting for 311 or 79.7%. Davao City had 177 out of the Davao region’s 197 cases, while Zamboanga City recorded 134 out of Zamboanga region’s total of 140 cases at the end of their ECQ on May 15.
The Caraga Regional Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) in its Resolution No. 41 on June 13, urged the national IATF to place Caraga region back under GCQ and to impose a moratorium on sweeper flights, mercy voyages, and all modes of transportation for the ROFs and LSIS as the number of arrivals had reached 5,994 and their cases surged to 87 from only eight at the start of June. By June 26, Caraga’s cases had reached 116 and remained at 116 as of June 28.
On June 20, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, IATF co-chair and Caraga Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security, wrote Agusan del Norte Governor and regional IATF chair Dale Corvera, that the national IATF had approved a “moratorium on flights” for Caraga-bound LSIs.
Nograles said the moratorium is limited only for LSIs, “pending the accreditation of the region’s proposed COVID-19 laboratory testing centers.”
Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Adiong had earlier asked for a moratorium on the arrival of LSIs and ROFs as the province had no new case for 49 days until the arrival of the LSIs and ROFs. From only nine cases on May 31, it surged to 84 as of June 28.
No moratorium has been declared for Lanao del Sur. MindaNews had asked Galvez also on Saturday afternoon, which other areas in Mindanao were under moratorium aside from Caraga and what is the status of the Mindanao regions after the current quarantines end on June 30 but he replied he was already in a meeting. MindaNews followed up on Sunday but he sent no reply.
Zia Alonto Adiong, Bangsamoro Member of Parliament and spokesperson of the Provincial Inter-Agency Task Force told MindaNews Sunday night that Lanao del Sur had become “the epicenter of COVID-19 in the Bangsamoro region.”
He told MindaNews that the request of Governor Adiong and the Provincial IATF had not been acted upon and the province continues to receive LSIs and ROFs every day. On Saturday, he said, 62 returnees arrived.
Galvez acknowledged that there were complaints from local government units that the spike in the number of COVID-19 positives in their areas was due to the arrival of LSIs and ROFs.
No PCR test, no travel
In a press briefing on June 19, he said they were “temporarily regulating” what he referred to as “Hatid Probinsya” to ensure that the areas LSIs and ROFs are returning to are safe. He meant safe from infection.
He thanked local chief executives for their “continued vigilance and patience” and added that “hopefully,” when the (COVID-19) test kits come, “pwede na po isama ang mga test para sa mga LSIs” (we can include testing of the LSIs).
Exactly a week later, on June 26, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told Malacanang reporters that based on what he and Galvez had discussed, “talaga naman pong nagkakaroon po tayo ng temporary moratorium sa pag-uwi ng mga locally stranded individuals” (there is a temporary moratorium on the return of LSIs) and that after the departure of the two 2Go vessels carrying LSIs, “ito na po siguro ang huling grupo ng LSIs na pauuwiin nang hindi po binibigyan muna ng PCR test” (this may be the last group of LSIs who will be sent home without going through an RT-PCR test).
Citing Galvez’ statement on the arrival of a million COVID-19 testing kits for RT-PCR, Roque said “pupuwede na nating bigyan ang lahat ng LSIs, kasama ang mga Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) ng PCR bago po sila pauwiin nang hindi na po magreklamo ang mga LGUs na ang mga nagdadala ng sakit sa kanilang mga lugar ay ang mga LSIs” (we can have RT-PCR testing for all LSIs, including OFWs, before they travel to their areas so that their LGUs will no longer complain that the LSIs are bringing the virus with them).
Lanao del Sur recorded 62 arrivals on June 27. As of June 28, it is only Caraga region where a “moratorium on flights” has been declared. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)