By National Economic and Development Authority, March 29, 2020; National Economic and Development Authority

Local government units (LGUs) outside the National Capital Region must effectively implement better strategies to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their respective localities, the National Economic and Development Authority said.

“COVID–19 is a novel coronavirus, which means that there is a lot that we do not know about it. Extensive monitoring and health surveillance systems need to be undertaken to build the knowledge base, so that prevention, management and treatment can be improved. LGUs can help in the conduct of these systems. Smart LGUs can contribute even more. Now is the time for these LGUs to brainstorm on ways that they can contribute to this effort,” said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.

The NCR, which hosts big international airports and with its high population density, is currently the epicenter of COVID-19 disease in the country. Before the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), people from across the country (and the world) have been moving in and out of NCR and this has contributed to the spread of COVID–19 to the rest of the country.

To contain the spread of the disease, NEDA said it is important for LGUs outside of the capital to be much better prepared.

“We identified ways on how LGUs can carry out the Phases 1a, 1b, and 1c of our proposed program of interventions to address the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Pernia, referring to a report assessing and addressing the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic it released on Tuesday, March 24.

The country is currently at Phase 1 of the mitigating measures to minimize the duration and contain the spread of the virus.

Phase 1a consists of interventions for early detection and testing, effective quarantine systems and management and treatment of cases.

“Many of the interventions on management and treatment of cases are within the domain of medical institutions. But with the LGUs working closely with the regional health offices to set up systems for contact tracing and develop protocols for referrals, their medical institutions can better address the effects of the virus during this critical phase. Regular transport services, or even temporary accommodation, can also be arranged for healthcare workers,” said Pernia.

He also added that LGUs can help in explaining the guidelines issued by the Department of Health, and the Interagency Task Force, and perhaps translate the guidelines into the local dialect.

Phase 1b, meanwhile, consists of public health measures such as ban on travel and crowded gatherings, school closures, flexible work arrangements, limits on business operations, and work suspension.

“It is imperative that proper sanitation is maintained in all public places. LGUs need to inform all establishments of the proper disinfection protocols and other measures to curb the spread of the disease,” Pernia said.

He added that to ensure the unhampered flow of basic goods and services, LGUs may need to issue special passes for delivery trucks of essential goods and designate special highway lanes, as needed. All checkpoint frontliners must undergo orientation prior to deployment and provided with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

NEDA also called on LGUs to prepare for the implementation of a social amelioration program aimed at mitigating the impact of work suspensions on the poor and vulnerable. Preparations include coming up with a registry of the poor and vulnerable households in their respective areas. The registry should include verifiable information as to the demographic information, socioeconomic status, usual occupation, address, contact information and if currently receiving any assistance from government.

NEDA also encouraged LGUs to set up a system to manage the receiving and deploying of donations and resources coming from well-meaning individuals and organizations.

Phase 1c calls for the short-term augmentation of health facilities, and human resources for health.

Thus, Pernia urged the LGUs to put up temporary outpatient consultation facilities outside of hospitals. “LGUs can expedite the issuance of permits to facilitate the local production and delivery of the needed materials for the construction of these facilities,” he said.

“Consultations for respiratory problems and fever should be done at these temporary facilities. If the LGU is able, a testing laboratory can be set up, subject to biosafety standards,” the Cabinet official said.

Pernia added that public school facilities, especially those that are accessible, but not situated in high-density areas, can be an option, subject to the guidelines set by the Department of Education.

“We count on all LGUs, especially the Smart LGUs, to help us in brainstorming innovative ideas, and in implementing these interventions, to curb the spread of the disease in the regions,” he said.