The House of Representatives will continue to operate under strict health and safety protocols after almost a hundred people tested positive for COVID-19 during the first-ever mass testing it conducted since the start of the pandemic, said House Secretary General Mark Llandro Mendoza.
At the same time, Mendoza said the House is now coordinating with the Quezon City government for the conduct of a more extensive contract tracing.
Mendoza's statement came as he confirmed that a total of 98 individuals turned out COVID-19 positive in the mass testing initiated by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.
He said the number represents nearly five percent of 2,000 House lawmakers and employees who underwent reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing since Nov. 10.
“Speaker Velasco ordered the mass testing to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the Batasan Complex, while the legislative chamber carries out its constitutional duties amid the pandemic,” he said.
According to Mendoza, almost all COVID-19 positive cases were asymptomatic. “All those who tested positive were directed to self-isolate to avoid passing the virus to others and immediate tracing of their close contacts was conducted,” Mendoza said.
He said the House is in close coordination with the Quezon City government for the conduct of a more extensive contract tracing.
He also said the testing laboratory commissioned by the House has reported the cases to the Department of Health, while the chamber’s in-house medical service made proper coordination with concerned Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams.
Prior to Nov. 10, the House already registered more than 80 COVID-19 cases since March. Almost all of them have recovered, except for two lawmakers and three employees who succumbed to the disease.
Mendoza said the increase in COVID-19 cases was expected since the testing covered everyone in the House, not just those with symptoms.
“Because it was mass testing for all officials, employees and guests entering the Batasan Complex, we caught even the asymptomatic cases who could be transmitters if we didn’t find out they were COVID positive,” Mendoza explained.
GCQ to prevent potential surge
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said Metro Manila and other areas were placed under general community quarantine to prevent the potential surge of COVID-19 cases during the Christmas season.
“There would be more people going out, therefore increasing contact rate, also the transmission rate. There could be a potential surge of cases,” Duque said in an interview on CNN Philippines.
In a public address aired on Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte announced the further extension of GCQ in Metro Manila until December 31, 2020 to control the spread of COVID-19 over the holidays.
Duterte said the following areas are also under GCQ: Batangas, Iloilo City, Tacloban City, Lanao del Sur, Iligan and Davao City
Duterte, meanwhile, placed the rest of the country under modified GCQ.
The OCTA Research Team on Tuesday identified four regions considered as epicenters of COVID-19 cases in the country.
Dr. Guido David said the epicenters are the National Capital Region, Davao Region, Calabarzon, and some parts of Central Luzon.
“Ang epicenters ngayon nasa Metro Manila, Davao, and Calabarzon. Nandoon pa rin 'yun sa Quezon, nakikita natin tumataas pa ang kaso. Sa Central Luzon, actually kasama din 'yan, dahil tumataas sa Bulacan, at saka sa Pampanga,” David said during an online briefing.
“Medyo marami pa rin 'yung epicenters natin. Hindi pa rin talaga nawawala 'yung virus. So, Metro Manila, Davao Region, Calabarzon, and parts of Central Luzon,” he added.
As the government eased some restrictions regarding the pandemic, Professor Ranjit Rye, also of OCTA Research, reminded the public to observe caution to avoid the spread of the disease.
Local government units would have to enact an ordinance allowing minors to enter malls despite the government's move allowing them to leave their homes provided they are with their parents or guardians, a ranking police official said on Tuesday.
"Kailangang pagtibayin yan ng isang ordinansa [It should be justified by an ordinance]," Joint Task Force Covid Shield commander, Lt. Gen. Cesar Hawthorne Binag said in a radio interview.
This came as the Metro Manila mayors' recommendation allowing minors to go to malls was approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases .
"Aside from malls, they will also be allowed in parks because we should also give the children the chance to go out because this community quarantine has been going on in the past nine months,” Binag said. “But they have to be accompanied by their parents and this should take effect once an ordinance is approved by LGUs specifically here in Metro Manila.”
The IATF earlier allowed 15 to 65 years old to go out as the quarantine rules were eased as part of the preparation for the new normal. Despite the easing of quarantine restrictions, Binag said they still discourage minors from leaving their homes.
Senators weigh in
In the Senate, Senator Grace Poe said that as the government plans to relax quarantine restrictions on minors, the government and mall authorities will be rigorous in implementing measures to ensure that safety protocols are observed.
She noted that children’s lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. Living up to the routine inside the home for months has been a real challenge for them.
“But we are not over the hump yet in the battle against COVID-19 until we find the most effective vaccine,” she said.
She said the government remains in a hunt for adequate funds to give the free shots at least to the most vulnerable sectors and needy segments of the population and make them available at reasonable rates to those who can afford it.