Around eight to nine locally stranded individuals (LSIs) who gathered at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila over the weekend have tested positive for COVID-19 following rapid tests, a government official said Monday.
Hatid Tulong Program lead convenor and Presidential Management Staff Assistant Secretary Joseph Encabo said in an ANC interview that the LSIs who tested positive were immediately isolated and subjected to confirmatory swab tests.
“Once the result is negative [RT-PCR test], we allow them to travel based on the assessment and evaluation of the medical doctors. If they tested positive, we have an available quarantine facility and [we will] bring them there. The DOH [Department of Health] will handle the management of those LSIs,” he said.
The program drew criticism following photos showing that social distancing seemed to be no longer observed at the stadium, with some of the LSIs awaiting transportation back to their home provinces preparing makeshift beds outside of the stadium due to health concerns amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Encabo apologized for the incident.
“Sa mga taong bumabatikos sa issue ng social distancing, kung hindi ninyo po nauunawaan, ay kami po ay humihingi ng paumanhin,” he said during the Laging Handa briefing on Monday.
“Ngunit sa effort po ng technical working group kami po ay sumisikap at patuloy na nagbibigay ng tamang serbisyo ayon po sa alituntunin at direktiba ng ating Pangulo.”
He reiterated that they had to protect the LSIs from heavy rain and hot weather.
“That’s the least that we could do, somehow that’s the best that we could offer because we have to protect these LSIs from heavy downpour at the same time intense heat of the sun while waiting outside,” Encabo told ANC.
“Much as we wanted to cater them in other venues but it would entail transportation and logistical requirements.”
The official added they will make an evaluation aimed at improving the implementation of the program.
Also on Monday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire expresesd sadness over the situation.
“Nakakalungkot na nangyayari ito. We have relayed protocol sa specific agencies, reminders na bawal ang mass gathering, pero nangyayari pa rin ito sa ating mga kababayan. Bawal ang mass gathering, kahit saan, iyan po dapat ang pinakamahigpit na pinatutupad, kasama iyong minimum health standards [na] dapat nasusunod,” Vergeire said at a virtual press briefing.
She said they have already relayed the incident to the Department of the Interior and Local Government and other concerned government agencies and expects it to be tackled by the government's COVID-19 task force.
The government also drew flak for bringing in a Philippine National Police band to serenade the LSIs inside the jampacked venue, given that the members of the band had to remove their face masks to be able to play their wind instruments.
Vergeire, however, said that it is the violation of social distancing and mass gathering prohibition, not the presence of the PNP band, that placed the LSIs and members of the band at risk of being infected with COVID-19.
Some 3,600 LSIs were sent back to their home provinces in Visayas and Mindanao on July 25 and 26, Encabo said. — RSJ, GMA News