Warning of losing the fight against COVID-19, the medical community is seeking the return of Metro Manila to the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for two weeks to give exhausted doctors and health workers a “timeout” and avoid getting infected themselves.
Forty medical societies led by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) have called on President Duterte and the Department of Health (DOH) to re-impose ECQ in Metro Manila to check the spiraling cases of COVID-19.
The DOH said it supports the call of the medical community and vowed to look into their concerns.
“Our healthcare workers are sounding a distress call. We need a short breather, we are already exhausted,” PCP president Jose Santiago said at a virtual press briefing.
Santiago said health workers might just collapse in the middle of the ballgame if the national government fails or refuses to call a timeout.
“Just like in basketball, there is substitute player, but we have to maintain our team captain – our specialty doctors. We need to refresh and collaborate. We all have one intention and that is mitigate COVID,” he said.
Santiago said the entire Philippine healthcare system, especially its health workers, are already overwhelmed with about 4,000 COVID cases recorded daily over the past week.
“Our health workers are burned out with seemingly endless number of patients trooping in for emergency care. We are losing the battle against COVID and need to draw up a definite plan of action,” he pointed out.
Reverting Metro Manila to ECQ, Santiago said, will not only help prevent transmission of the virus but also give authorities time to re-group and fine-tune pandemic control measures.
He also appealed to the government to reconsider plans to re-open gyms, review centers, internet cafes, grooming services and drive-in cinemas.
“We understand that imposing ECQ is a complex decision, but we can’t hold the line any longer. Don’t let the health workers decide who will live and who dies,” Santiago added.
Pulmonologist Maricar Limpin, PCP vice president, said many healthcare workers are now getting infected with COVID. Some of those infected have died or are in the ICU.
“We will not be able to cope with this continued daily rise in COVID cases. We don’t want to give up. We are just asking for a timeout of two weeks to control the spread of the infection,” Limpin said.
“We are basically asking the President to tighten community quarantine so we could regroup and rethink. We need to control our ports instead of allowing international flights that could increase the number of infected Filipinos,” she said.
Placing Metro Manila anew under ECQ from Aug. 1 to 15, Limpin said, would give more time for the government to come out with comprehensive and more effective infection control measures.
“We can’t just leave it up to LGUs (local government units) for the implementation of health measures. The leadership of the DOH is needed, they have the expertise and they know what should be done. It is time for us to listen to the DOH,” she stressed.
Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians’ Eileen Espina said they have been receiving reports of non-COVID patients being deprived of appropriate health care due to the high number of COVID patients in hospitals.
Espina stressed that a majority of the COVID cases need not be hospitalized and could just be isolated and managed in their homes and in community isolation facilities.
She is calling for the implementation of a coding system being used by Baguio City and Tacloban City LGUs that could help the government trace COVID positive patients.
According to the doctors, the COVID situation in the country has gotten worse due to easing of quarantine restrictions in many areas.
Doctors said that while infection control measures exist, they have proven to be ineffective, judging from the rise in COVID cases nationwide, particularly in Metro Manila.
They also said health workers are suffering from mental fatigue.
If an ECQ cannot be enforced again in Metro Manila, the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) said the government should at least allow shifting of duties of health workers.
“The DOH stands with our frontliners and acknowledges the sacrifices and challenges of our healthcare workers, whom we have been working with since the start of this pandemic. We honor all your efforts,” the DOH said in a statement.
“We support the call of our frontliners to ensure appropriate implementation of community quarantines to ensure the protection of our health workers,” it added.
“We welcome this opportunity to continuously work with the medical societies and our healthcare workers on a united and strategic course of action to win the battle versus this pandemic. Rest assured that DOH is leading in working together with the other agencies in supporting the HCWs and their plight during this situation,” the DOH said.
Medical frontliners from the Philippine National Police (PNP) also lament the easing of quarantine restrictions, especially in Metro Manila, saying this has caused the further spread of the disease, which has already infected more than 2,000 police personnel.
PNP doctors, speaking on condition of anonymity, said police officers already infected with COVID-19 have to wait several days before being admitted to healthcare facilities.
They said physicians and nurses are already multi-tasking just to be able to attend to the needs of every patient in their hospitals and quarantine facilities.
“We are already exhausted. We are on the brink,” a doctor said in an interview.
A total of 2,151 PNP personnel have contracted COVID-19 as of Friday evening. Of the number, 11 have died while 823 have recovered from the virus. The rest are undergoing treatment.
As police officers are among the government’s frontliners fighting the spread of COVID-19, they are always at risk of exposure to the dreaded disease.
The situation has turned for the worse, especially in Metro Manila, after the government placed the region under a less stringent general community quarantine last June. Proof is that the three quarantine facilities at Camp Crame in Quezon City are almost full.
Other police regional offices are also having the same problem, according to the source.
“The situation is bad as those coming in are confirmed COVID-19 patients and not suspected cases,” the source said.
“We are just hoping that none of us get sick as it will cripple our limited manpower,” a doctor said.
One PNP healthcare worker blamed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III for the current health crisis.
According to the source, the DOH bungled its handling of the health crisis when it concentrated on constructing quarantine facilities instead of aggressive contract tracing of people exposed to COVID-19 patients.
“The DOH neglected contact tracing in favor of quarantine facilities,” a doctor said.
“Our quarantine facilities also have limitations,” the source said.