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Health advocates file petition for mass testing

By Joseph Cuevas

Health professionals, workers and women filed a petition before the Supreme Court last Friday, July 3, asking the executive branch to implement mass testing and provide accurate and reliable data to the people on the coronavirus 19 or Covid-19.

Citing the people’s right to health under the Philippine Constitution,  the petition for a writ of mandamus shall compel the Department of Health and other agencies to conduct pro-active mass testing, aggressive contract tracing and effective isolation, and treatment of Covid-19 positive cases to contain the spread of the virus.

The 74-page petition was filed by Citizens’ Urgent Response to End Covid-19 (CURE COVID) spokesperson Judy Taguiwalo; Coalition for the People’s Right to Health convenor Dr. Joshua San Pedro; Bahaghari bational spokesperson Rey Valmores-Salinas; Migrante International chairperson Joanna Celeste Concepcion; GABRIELA Network of Professionals secretary general Lovely Ramos; Drug, Food and Allied Workers Federation-Kilusang Mayo Uno secretary general Debie Faigmani; BPO Industry Employees Network president Mylene Cabalona; Alliance of Concerned Teachers-National Capital Region Union president Vladimer Queta; UP-Pantranco Driver’s Association vice-president Ernesto Lizada; homemaker Marites Arboleda; and K-12 student Via Leigh Hernandez.

The petition is seeks “accurate, timely and complete information with regards to Covid-19 situation including onset of symptoms, history of exposure, co-morbidities, whether the subject is a medical frontliner, data when specimen is collected and actual case validation backlog from the government.”

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, counsel of the petitioners, said that the omission of proactive and efficient mass testing amid the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that a systemic and normalized violation of the right to health engenders the impairment of other human rights and liberties, such as the rights to travel, livelihood or work, education, and access to justice

In a statement, CURE COVID pointed out that many health experts said that mass testing is very important in the country’s response to the pandemic.

Mass testing enables countries to identify the extent of the virus’ transmissions among the populace, the group said.

It added that with honest and prompt information, governments can systematically and scientifically trace, isolate and treat the infected and contain the transmission.

“Unfortunately, the [Rodrigo] Duterte administration has fallen very short of doing this. Last April 3, retired general Carlito Galvez, chief implementor of the National Task Force on Covid-19 (NTF Covid), announced that the government will implement mass testing by April 15. This obviously did not happen, as the number of testing needed to ascertain the extent of Covid-19 transmissions has consistently fallen short of the NTF’s very own targets,” CURE COVID added.

The group also said instead of mass testing, tracing, isolation and treatment, the government heavily relied on a militarist response to the pandemic, putting the country under the world’s longest lockdown that resulted to abuses, unnecessary restrictions and undue curtailment of civil liberties.

According to the health department, 38,805 have been infected that resulted in 1,274 recorded deaths as of Friday. #

COVID19: Being ‘negative’ is the new positive

By Jenny Padua

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—I had myself COVID-19 screened last May 19.

Before that, I downloaded an app to book a session at a government-approved coronavirus testing center. The test was in compliance with the local government’s order to be tested before going back to normal work mode after Abu Dhabi’s lockdown. My Emirati boss asked all of his employees to take the test.

The test I took was classified as a screening test, as I and my colleagues did not have COVID-19 symptoms: fever, headache, body pain, sore throat. We are also under 50 years of age, not pregnant, without pre-existing conditions, not having disabilities, and have not been in contact with a suspected COVID-19 patient.

Laborers and other blue-collar job workers are given free tests here. Companies are also encouraged to pay for tests on their white collar workers such as myself. Otherwise, it costs UAE Dirham 370, as was in my case. Those who have the means may go to hospitals where they pay as much as 700 Dirham that includes going through a triage and a doctor’s appointment.

The point is, getting tested here is easy and, in fact, mandatory. Unlike in the Philippines.

Drive –thru test

The one where I went to at Zayed Sports City is a drive-through testing center, constructed and patterned after the South Korean centers. From the main gate, security guards direct vehicles towards several gates. I was assigned to Gate 19.

Before reaching the gates, medical staff in protective suits approach each car and conduct initial assessment by asking for confirmation of schedule and bar code for easy check and payment mode (company-sponsored or self-pay). Yes, we were in our cars all the time, minimizing contact and helping contain whatever virus we have in us.

At the main testing center, security guards ask for verification if one isn’t alone in the car and who will be taking the test. (I asked a friend to accompany me.) As I queued, I thought this part of the experience is similar to driving through for burgers and fries. All the while, friendly crews assist in inserting IDs on machines for identification. Once confirmed, an attendant signaled me to an assigned slot and asked me to turn the engine off. We then waited for a nurse to conduct the swab test.

Entrance to the screening center. (Photo supplied by the author.)

What was it like?

I prepared for this test physically and psychologically. Beforehand, I asked some friends who have already taken the test how it had been for them. I received mixed responses. Some said it was indeed painful, some said it would at least be uncomfortable, while some said it had been painless. I also watched videos of how it is done. Many of the videos had subjects appearing uncomfortable or in pain.

One physical preparation I did was thoroughly cleaning my nostrils, of course.

When the nurse came, I asked if it was ok to take photos during the swabbing, thinking it would be nice to share them to our families back home eager to know how it goes as well. It was ok, she said.

I was still sitting on the driver’s seat and my window was open. I was asked to adjust my seat and tilt my head backward. By this time, I was a bit nervous as you can imagine. When I saw the swab at the end of a long stick coming near my left nostril, I closed my eyes.

 I felt a tingling and ticklish sensation as the swab was slowly inserted way down my nasal passage. After a few seconds, the nurse said we are done and then I can go. He added the result wuld be sent via SMS within 24 to 48 hours.

I didn’t feel any pain at all, unlike my niece in Australia who experienced severe pain and headache after taking the test. An elderly friend in South Africa also suffered headache for hours after.

I guess one’s reaction to the test depends on one’s tolerance for such things. If one is sensitive or have nasal conditions or allergies, it may indeed be uncomfortable. Perhaps, I may have also been simply lucky for having a nurse who was careful and had a deft touch.

Author being swabbed. (Photo supplied by the author.)

The result

Medical test results that are not immediately known have the habit of making one nervous. I was confident I would be tested negative. At least that was what I was telling myself after the test.

This confidence was brought about by the fact that Abu Dhabi locked itself down early, while the number of cases had not been bad. It went as far as refusing entry to visitors who have already landed at the airport, keeping them there for days until everything was prepared or were flown back home. (The lockdown at the airport here was not as bad as those currently being suffered by returning overseas Filipino workers at Manila International Airport who complain of feeling “discarded” by the Philippine government.)

During the lockdown, I stayed home. I did not violate the quarantine policies of the local government, not having any reason to. This is another reason why Abu Dhabi’s lockdown seems bound to succeed.

Still, I worried a bit. I did all sorts of things to keep myself from thinking about the result. I watched movies on my gadgets. I cleaned house. I prayed.

After 24 hours, I received the awaited SMS that told me I was NEGATIVE of the dreaded virus. Relief and gratitude were my immediate reactions, followed by messages to family and friends who also waited for the outcome.

I told a friend that this is an instance when you hope for something negative rather than something positive. I also realized this pandemic is making the entire world hope for a negative as humanity’s new positive.

To test or not to test?

I think everyone must be COVID-19 screened as a matter of right. This becomes more urgent in my situation as an expatriate in a country where many nationalities mix and co-exist. Abu Dhabi, as an employer of workers from all over the world, is also an air-travel hub between Europe, Africa and the rest of Asia. It also becomes an absolute necessity as the world is emerging from imposed lockdowns and trying to restart the global economy.

This virus is new and it appears it can infect and affect anyone. Everyone must be tested at least once every wave this virus has. I also think testing must be free for the poor.

This thought brings me grief as I read reports that virus testing in the Philippines is severely limited. While some powerful people, such as politicians, have already been tested several times, the throng of workers told to report back to work on Monday, June 1, seem to have very little hope of being tested.

Sana ALL. #

KODAO ASKS: Kung walang mass testing, mapipigilan kaya ang COVID-19 sa Pilipinas?

Sa mahigit dalawang buwan na pagpapatupad ng lockdown sa buong bansa dahil sa Covid 19, wala pa ring malawakang testing upang malaman talaga kung gaano kalala ang paglawak ng sakit sa mamamayan. Maraming grupo ang nanawagan na ipatupad ang mass testing na anila’y siyang tunay lulutas sa nasabing pandemya.

Sa kabilang banda, mabibigyang-solusyon ba ang pandemya na ito kung walang mass testing? (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas Background Music: Bumper Tag by John Deley)

Harry Roque owes CNN-Philippines and reporter an apology, NUJP says

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said that Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque should apologize to CNN Philippines for berating its reporter in an online press briefing Tuesday, May 12.

In a statement, the media group said Roque owes the media company and reporter Triciah Terada an apology for “his boorish and, as it turned out, misbegotten tirade.”

Reacting to a CNN tweet on Monday, May 18, Roque denied he admitted that the government has no coronavirus mass testing program and would leave it to private businesses.

It was reported that the government has no plan or action, or that the expanded target testing is not a priority. This is very wrong,” Roque said in Filipino.

He said reporter Terada quoted him “out of context,” adding that CNN’s tweet insinuated that the government has passed on to the private sector the responsibility for expanded testing.

CNN said in a statement it is standing by its story, adding the report was not written by Terada.

“CNN Philippines assures the public that we reported the facts in the May 18 story,” it said.

Roque was in fact responding to the request of GMA’s Joseph Morong to confirm that government had no mass testing program, to which he replied, “[I]n terms of mass testing that Wuhan (China) did with all its 11 million residents, we have no such program and we leave that to the private sector.”

NUJP said that, ironically, even as he berated Terada, Roque unwittingly proved in effect the report right when he said, “It is not mass testing that we are doing, it is expanded targeted testing.”

Multiple news organizations also carried the same story that quoted Roque.

“Officials who earn public ire for their pronouncements should not blame journalists who are merely doing their jobs,” NUJP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Mga mamimili sa Krus na Ligas, nanawagan ng mass testing

Sa unang araw ng ipinangakong community-based mass testing para sa COVID-19, nagbitbit ng plakards ang ilang mamimili sa barangay Krus na Ligas.

Ilan sa mga panawagan ay ang kagyat na pagpapatupad ng mass testing, at tuloy-tuloy na pamamahagi ng ayuda.

Ayon sa Quezon City government, nakatakdang isalang ang 150 katao sa unang araw ng mass testing. Sa kasalukuyan, wala pa ring naitatalang positibong kaso ng COVID-19 ang barangay. # (Bidyo ni Maricon Montajes)

Beyond late night pep talks

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The government tries hard to convince us that we are doing fine compared to the rest of the world despite the widespread complaints and sufferings of the people who are under lockdown due to the corona virus disease (Covid-19).

The Philippines has had to resort to extreme quarantine measures precisely because of the failure of the Duterte regime to impose travel restrictions, do proper contact tracing, and recognize in a timely manner the local transmission that had been ongoing in the country. Don’t tell us we are better off. We are in this difficult situation because government downplayed many of the red flags early on. Remember that time when a patient from Greenhills with no travel history was infected with the virus, and health secretary Francisco Duque said that’s not local transmission because it’s just one person?

The people want the spread of the disease to stop through the necessary health measures such as community quarantine, mass testing, isolation and treatment of patients. The expanded quarantine has become necessary to slow down the spread of the disease given that our health system cannot cope with the rise of new cases. Slowing down the spread of the disease entails stopping the movement of people, especially when we do not yet have a clear picture of the extent of the infections. A University of the Philippines study projects that as many as 140,000 to 550,000 can be infected especially in densely populated urban poor communities.

Lifting the quarantine will be done based on two factors according to the DOH: lower number of new cases and the increased capacity of the health system to treat patients (enough hospital beds, respirators, doctors). The lifting may not be done abruptly because of the dangers of the virus infecting more people. This may require calibrated or gradual lifting of quarantine measures or lockdown. Some areas may take more time because they have a high incidence of infections.

What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of the government to implement the necessary health measures to confront the pandemic. What will prolong the lockdown is the failure of government to implement the needed economic support for the people. A hungry populace will not stay put and will break quarantine protocols, and will be more vulnerable to sickness. Kaya talagang mahigpit na magka-ugnay yung health at economics.

And if the lockdown is lifted, we have to fix major issues in the workplace, housing, sanitation, mass transportation, education and so on. We cannot just return to the way things were — with gross inequality and government neglect of social services laying the basis for more infections. The first thing we will be demanding after the lockdown is lifted is CHANGE. We do not want to go back to the way things were.

Those telling us we are doing fine are the ones that got us into this dire situation in the first place. They best heed the growing demands of the people and undertake the needed health and economic measures, else we will be looking at a longer lockdown period and more suffering and unrest among the population. Kaya na lang ganoon kadiin ang protesta at pagpapahayag sa gobyerno. Ayaw nating dumami ang tatamaan ng sakit, at ayaw nating humaba pa ang pagdurusa ng mamamayan. #

#TulongHindiKulong
#MassTestingNowPH
#IbigayAngAyuda

(The author is the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.)