by: Angela Casco and Johannes L. Chua
Manila Bulletin May 20, 2020
I thought it would be good to send some good vibes amidst the gloom of this COVID-19 pandemic. I feel that the tensions we experience now will not go away if we continue to dwell on all the negativity. Yes, we’re making slow progress. Still, it’s good to know that more and more people are falling in line – keeping in step so to speak – to the beat of our leaders. As I keep saying, in a crisis like these, what is important is that we do our part, we follow the dictates of our decision-makers, we cooperate and help each other. So here’s a Manila Bulletin report on our healthcare frontliners’ efforts to ‘flatten the curve’. Let’s continue to help them in whatever way we can, and pray for them, that they be endowed with the strength, the stamina and the spirit to fight this uncommon enemy.
If there’s good news, if it can be called “good,” is that our country is not experiencing a breakdown in its healthcare system. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic has overwhelmed doctors and nurses, but our country’s medical facilities have not reached a breaking point where patients are left alone in hallways or unattended by the roadside. This can partly be attributed to the availability of structures that “adapted” to the times, such as event centers, concert halls, wedding venues, and hotels (even ships!) that were transformed, for the meantime, to become quarantine facilities, swabbing centers, isolation venues, etc. to help “flatten the curve.”
For example the Palacio de Maynila, which is a popular venue for events and concerts, was converted in three days as the country’s first mega-swabbing facility with 72 testing booths, according to Build, Build, Build chairperson Anna Mae Lamentillo. The facility has already started massive testing of repatriated overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
“On an 18-hour schedule, we will be able to test 7,680 individuals,” said Lamentillo in a statement. Palacio de Maynila is just one of the various Covid-19 facilities in Metro Manila, which includes the World Trade Center, the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, ULTRA, among others. The most recent, the Enderun Tent in Taguig City, which is used for events of the culinary school, also became a mega-swabbing facility starting May 6.
These kinds of facilities are not only Metro Manila-centric. Up north, Clark has opened various Covid-19 facilities, which currently screens arriving OFWs. The Philippines Arena, the country’s largest, is also part of the battle against the virus. Down south, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte just gave the go signal to use NCCC Mall’s The Dome, a 1,250-square meter hall, as a Covid-19 isolation facility.
As of the moment, all these venues are serving their purpose, adding to the number of Covid-19 testing done to medical frontliners, OFWs, and those with probable and suspected cases of the virus. The government is projecting to test 30,000 individuals per day by May 30.
Though official numbers served by these facilities are still unavailable, it is safe to assume that these structures have helped ease the effects of the crisis and helped flatten the curve. Here are the updates on some of them.
We Heal as One Centers
The government’s response to crowded Covid-19 hospitals, We Heal as One Centers, are public buildings-turned-temporary health facilities for patient care and treatment. They also became the quarantine area for repatriated OFWs. Authorities have described the centers as vital to its “locate, isolate, cure” strategy.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), and partners from the private sector led the fast-tracked retrofitting efforts of such structures. These enclosed spaces have clean cubicles, work stations, and free WiFi connectivity, as well as free meals and round-the-clock medical services.
The first center, Ninoy Aquino Stadium inside the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila, was completed last April 6 and accommodated its first patient on April 14. Seven days later, it was able to discharge its first Covid-19 patient after testing negative twice. Three more patients recovered and were discharged on April 25.
Soon after, several centers opened, including the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), the Philippine Sports Complex (ULTRA) in Manila, and the New Clark City Government Center. All facilities have more or less 100 beds ready, many of which were immediately occupied.
World Trade Center Manila is also a We Heal As One Center, complete with 502 beds, as well as a full medical staff. It first welcomed 62 returning OFWs from Abu Dhabi on April 24. At least 336 OFWs from Maldives arrived at the same center two days later.
At the Philippine Arena Complex in Bulacan, 300 beds were prepped for Covid-19 patients on April 29 in just 10 days. Some 87 OFWs from Spain and Italy—European countries with the highest number of Covid-19 cases—were welcomed on April 30 by about 50 medical personnel from the Department of Health (DOH).
Completed last April 12, ASEAN Convention Center in Pampanga, which has a 150-bed capacity, housed 40 residents from Luzon who were stranded in Davao City. They were flown in at the Clark International Airport via chartered flight and brought to the center where they underwent rapid testing.
Returning OFWs and seafarers have also found a temporary home to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine at Manila’s Eva Macapagal ship terminal, one of the most recently-opened We Heal As One Center. The treatment facility has a total of 211 cubicles in different zones, accommodating patients depending on their Covid-19 status. It was meant to support two quarantine vessels earlier opened at the Port of Manila.
Logistics company 2GO Shipping temporarily housed OFWs and seafarers returning to the country. Two of the company’s passenger vessels served as floating quarantine facilities, free of charge. The stay at both ships, with a combined bed capacity of 1,500, came with food and other supplies. The Philippine Coast Guard was put in charge for orderly operations and effective delivery of onboard health care, as well as standard environment controls, hygiene protocols, as well as maritime safety and security regulations.
Soon after the completion of refurbishing efforts inside the vessels early April, it already started accepting OFWs from South Korea, Indonesia, Qatar, and Taiwan.
As of April 29, 48 OFWs finished the mandatory quarantine at Pier 15 and 17 of them were cleared of Covid-19 and were able to go home.
BRP Ang Pangulo (ACS-25), meanwhile, accommodated at least 16 suspected Covid-19 cases, all of whom are military frontliners.While they await test results, the patients were told to stay at the floating quarantine facility in the meantime.
Volunteer-built quarantine facilities
Private individuals also stepped up to contribute in the fight against Covid-19. William Ti, as well as fellow architects and volunteers, constructed makeshift quarantine facilities made of wood and plastic around late March.
A half and a month later, they were able to build 57 facilities (with a total of 800 beds) near different hospitals in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
Each facility was built with separate entries for healthcare workers and patients, an excluded testing area, a decontamination and sanitation area, 15 to 30 beds separated by partitions, and two toilets. All facilities were turned over to concerned hospitals.
Another group of volunteer architects and engineers also designed and initiated the construction of intensive care and isolation units out of repurposed shipping containers. Called Rapid Deployment Hospitals (RAD) Hospitals, the makeshift hospital utilized 151 square meters of floor space to create 24 isolation rooms and nurse stations. Project head Mac Evangelista said the construction of the first RAD Hospital at the Lung Center of the Philippines is already underway.
Cover photo courtesy of Business Mirror.