Batanes will implement a tougher lockdown after its first case of novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 after months of being free of it.
The northernmost island of the Philippines immediately trended on Twitter after the Batanes provincial government announced its first infection.
In a Facebook post on September 29, Batanes stated that the infected patient was a locally stranded individual who arrived at the province via the Philippine Air Force on September 22.
Due to the first Confirmed COVID Case in our Province, Batanes will implement enhanced measures to avoid possible local…
The patient was asymptomatic and under strict isolation at the Batanes Resort, and upon arrival, contact tracing was also immediately conducted.
“The patient is currently with no symptoms, however, for precautionary measure, the patient is under strict isolation at the Batanes Resort and being strictly observed and managed,” the post read.
“All identified ‘close contacts’ and other locally stranded individuals under quarantine are being strictly monitored by the Provincial COVID-19 Task Group,” it added.
Hours later, Batanes’ provincial government issued guidelines for enhanced measures to prevent local transmissions, which will start on September 30 and end on October 13.
#BatanesBantayCOVID19 UPDATESeptember 29, 2020
The guidelines listed were similar to the tougher enhanced community quarantine imposed throughout Luzon last March wherein all types of public gatherings are prohibited and mass transport is suspended.
Farming and fishing activities are also allowed provided that the mandated physical distancing rules are observed.
All commercial flights are also temporarily halted excluding emergency cases.
“All commercial flights to the province is temporarily banned. Only emergency medical evacuation flights and transport of swabs, in coordination with the Provincial Task Group shall be allowed,” the post read.
Prior to the patient’s arrival, the northern province and its residents had been free of COVID-19 for almost eight months while the rest of the country, particularly Metro Manila, continued to struggle with a surge of cases every day.
Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco previously attributed Batanes’ virus-free status to its far-flung location. The provincial government has had stringent entry policies since March.
The island-province, however, had been dealing with arrivals of locally stranded individuals in the past months since the national government implemented its Hatid Tulong Program, which helps Filipinos to return home to their respective provinces.
Several Filipinos noted this and criticized anew the program and the government agencies tasked to handle it.
“Interesting trend where cases are introduced by an LSI to a location with no cases,” one user said.
“Hindi masamang tumulong sa mga LSI. Siyempre, sino ba naman ang ayaw umuwi sa lupang tinubuan lalo na sa panahon ng pandemya, hindi ba? Ang akin lamang, sana tiyakin natin ang kalusugan at kaligtasan ng bawat isa,” another wrote.
Some Filipinos, meanwhile, noted that Batanes’ situation is proof that the government did not take advantage of the country’s unique topography.
#Batanes was proof that the archipelagic nature of our country could've been capitalized on to stop the spread of #COVID19 w/ sound gov't planning & policy. But no, despite knowing movement of people was key to the spread of infection, gov't insisted on bringing people home pic.twitter.com/eCrj0FXgm4
— Naomi Fontanos (@NaomiFontanos) September 29, 2020
Local officials, representatives of other provinces and some of their residents have similarly accused this initiative and the comprehensive Balik-Probinsya Program for transmitting the disease to their constituents.
Last September, Hatid Tulong project head Joseph Encabo appealed to LSIs to contact their respective local governments first.
“Hindi po natin sila mapauwi nang sabay sabay, Kaya po nananawagan kami na kung pupuwede, sundin ang proseso ng Hatid Tulong initiative. Makipag-ugnayan muna sa kanilang local government unit (LGU),” Encabo said.