Dire situation in Cebu
For recording a worrying surge in infection cases over the past weeks, Cebu City has earned the ignoble distinction of being the new “main focal point” of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Philippines.
On June 30, Cebu City logged 353 new COVID-19 cases, the highest reported in a single day—bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the city to 5,494, with 2,723 recoveries and 169 deaths.
The Queen City of the South consequently became the only place in the Philippines to remain under enhanced community quarantine. “This is the highest [level of quarantine] because there are already so many people infected [there],” said President Duterte in a televised address late Tuesday. As if rubbing it in, he added, “Ang enhanced community quarantine, Cebu City. Kayo lang.”
Cebu City reverted to ECQ status on June 16 after two weeks into GCQ, following the spike in COVID-19 cases as lockdown measures were loosened. National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the surge in cases in Cebu City might continue “for two to three weeks,” similar to what NCR went through from March to mid-April.
NCR’s painful and costly experience should have given Cebu’s city and provincial officials a clear template on how to avoid a similar dire situation. Instead, they seemed to have wasted the opportunity to learn from it.
According to Dr. Ted Herbosa, adviser to the NTF, the first round of ECQ in Cebu City, which lasted until May 31, was not properly implemented, mainly due to weak leadership and governance and the “whitewashing” of the serious situation “to make it look like everything was okay,”
Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said earlier last month that it would be unfair to put Cebu City back into ECQ and lobbied to remain under the looser GCQ, claiming low mortality rates and high recovery rates even if the number of actual cases had been surging.
Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, meanwhile, dispensed dubious advice for citizens to practice “tuob” or steam inhalation twice a day to ward off the highly contagious disease, and had the audacity to berate doctors on social media who pointed out the danger and inanity of her sham science. (A 34-year-old female vendor who used the folk remedy to cure COVID-19 has already died in Cagayan de Oro City.)
The consequences of the lack of decisive and fact-based action in Cebu City and Cebu province have been grave. The fatality rate has stubbornly increased, an indication of the failure to immediately detect cases for early intervention, thus straining Cebu City’s capacity to care for critical patients. The latest COVID-19 study by the University of the Philippines showed that hospitalization resource utilization in Cebu City is at worrisome levels: Occupancy of hospital beds is greater than 70 percent, while occupancy of intensive care units is greater than 60 percent.
Bearing the brunt are Cebu City’s harried medical frontliners, who are now suffering from a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) aside from the emotional and physical burden of handling the rush in cases “that just keep on coming,” as an exhausted frontliner put it.
Chong Hua Hospital announced in a statement that “despite having the greatest number of beds allocated for COVID-related cases among private hospitals,” it is currently at full capacity.
The burden has become so heavy that health-care professionals such as Dr. Rene Josef Bullecer, and Dr. Peter Mancao of the Cebu Medical Society, a federation of Cebu-based medical practitioners, have issued urgent appeals for PPE and additional doctors and nurses. Many overworked nurses in Cebu’s private hospitals have, on the other hand, expressed plans to quit over health and safety concerns. “The morale of our nurses is simply very low right now. They need much support,” said Mancao. “It’s not that they don’t want to serve anymore, but it’s more of an appeal to the government to also focus on those in the medical frontlines in the battle against COVID-19.”
Why does that appeal sound familiar? Because medical personnel in NCR had made the same anguished calls three months ago at the height of cases in Metro Manila, and now it appears that Cebu, the biggest metropolis outside of the nation’s capital, was not paying sufficient attention to fortify its medical front promptly and adequately with personnel and equipment.
Local government officials, meanwhile, who still allow public gatherings — such as the unauthorized Sinulog performance in Barangay Basak San Nicolas last week, even if the barangay is on the list of the top 12 barangays in Cebu City with the most number of active COVID-19 cases — need to be sanctioned for their neglect and irresponsibility. At this point, a further surge in COVID-19 cases, and an extended severe lockdown to arrest the situation, are a ruinous combo that Cebu City and its people can ill afford.
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.