Gov't fast-tracks conversion of facilities into COVID-19 quarantine sites

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 1) — The Philippine government is racing against time to convert three big facilities in Metro Manila into quarantine centers to isolate confirmed, potential, and suspected cases of COVID-19.

The Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Forum Halls, the World Trade Center in Pasay City and the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila City are being transformed into quarantine centers. The three facilities can house close to 1,000 patients — a move seen to decongest hospitals.

The COVID-19 patients who are exhibiting moderate to severe symptoms will be admitted in hospitals.

Public Works Secretary Mark Villar told CNN Philippines on Wednesday that the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, specifically the Ninoy Aquino Basketball Stadium, will house COVID-19 patients who are showing mild symptoms.

The sports complex, which can accommodate 112 patients, will be operational within the week. The national government has started sourcing beds and additional equipment needed to treat patients.

"We will be ready," Villar said. "Ang target talaga namin [our original target is] within the week, we'll have partial operability of these facilities, particularly Rizal Sports Complex."

Meanwhile, Villar said persons under monitoring (PUMs) and patients under investigation (PUIs) will be removed from communities where they can infect other people. They will be brought to the PICC and World Trade Center for strict monitoring and isolation, he said. Villar ordered the completion of the conversion within 10 days.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said PUIs who are showing respiratory symptoms linked to the coronavirus but are still awaiting test results will be placed in separate rooms to avoid infection.

With the overcrowding in hospitals, the directive of the Department of Health is to send home patients with mild symptoms and PUIs to undergo self-isolation. But Nograles said placing them in guarded quarantine facilities would ensure they don't pass the virus to their family members.

"Since hindi pa natin alam kung meron silang COVID-19 ay dapat isolated sila from each other at sa kanilang pamilya. Kailangan single room occupancy ang ibibigay natin na set up para sa kanila," the Cabinet official said during an Inter-Agency Task Force media briefing on Wednesday.

[Translation: Since we don't know yet if they have COVID-19, they must be sisolated from each other and from their families. We must provide them single room occupancy.]

Villar said the staff who will man these facilities will be provided by the Health Department. Military medical workers and volunteers from the private sectors are also seen to extend help. The Villar Group of Companies, Ayala Development Corporation, Makati Development Corporation, and the Razon Group are undertaking the refitting of the PICC, World Trade Center, and Rizal Memorial.

He said the national and local government units have identified 125 evacuation sites nationwide to prepare for future surges in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, which as of Tuesday, has breached the 2,000 mark.

Meanwhile, other government agencies were tasked to look for maritime vessels and hotels nationwide to be used as quarantine centers that will house potential COVID-19 cases and patients with mild symptoms.

Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the national plan against COVID-19, said that based on the timetable given by President Rodrigo Duterte, they intend to transfer all confirmed cases, PUIs, and PUMs to quarantine facilities by April 14.

Mass testing

Galvez said conducting mass testing is just as important as isolating and treating patients. He said testing potential and suspected cases without delay would mean a more effective contact tracing.

“Contact-tracing will be crucial in this effort, as it will enable us to quickly and effectively identify the potential carriers of the disease, and isolate them from the rest of the community before they can infect others,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the current directive of the Department of Health, those who are given COVID-19 tests are only those with severe symptoms, those from the vulnerable sector with mild symptoms, and symptomatic health workers.