Tarlac town opposes use of New Clark City as coronavirus quarantine site

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 7) — The municipal council of Capas, Tarlac on Friday unanimously voted to oppose the decision to use New Clark City as a quarantine area for dozens of Filipinos to be repatriated from the epicenter of the novel coronavirus.

New Clark City, which is completely under the control of the government's Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), is located in the towns of Capas and Bamban in Tarlac Province.

Local officials said they were surprised when the Health Department announced that the Athlete's Village in New Clark City — constructed especially for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games — will house the group coming from Hubei Province in China. Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan said they were not informed about the sudden announcement.

"DOH did not at all involve Capas LGU in its last-minute decision for New Clark City to be used as quarantine zone," he said in a statement read during the council's emergency meeting. 

Even Tarlac Provincial Health Officer Dr. Jeanette Lazatin said they were unaware of the decision, adding it was the call of the national government.

Capas municipal councilors said the decision made by BCDA and DOH threatens social peace in the area, sowing worry that the virus might spread in nearby residential areas and resettlement areas. One councilor said it won't be a surprise if Capas turns into Hubei, where there are over 600 deaths due to the coronavirus.

Municipal Councilor Estella Manlupig said the Duterte administration should reconsider looking at a more isolated venue.

"Hindi naman tinatanggihan ang OFWs dahil kapwa natin sila Pilipino, pero sana dalhin sila sa lugar na mas mas akma at wala masyadong buhay na maaapektuhan," she said.

[Translation: We are not against our OFWs, but we hope they will be brought to a more proper location where there won't be people affected.]

Forty-five Filipinos from Hubei, Philippine officials who led their repatriation, and the flight crew carrying the group will be housed in New Clark City for 14 days for mandatory quarantine, health officials said.

The health department said all flight passengers will be screened before boarding the flight in China. Those who show coronavirus symptoms will not be allowed to board the aircraft and instead will be taken to hospitals in China. Once the plane lands in Clark International Airport, the passengers will once again undergo medical screening. Those who have fever, colds, or cough will be sent to local hospitals. Those who don't show symptoms will be transported to New Clark City.

Economic implications

Capas, Tarlac Vice Mayor Roseller Rodriguez said they are worried about the possible economic implications of labeling the area as a quarantine site because they are marketing New Clark City as a premier business and tourism hub.

"Kung magkaka-stigma na ginamit itong quarantine area ay maaapektuhan ang ekonomiya ng Capas... May turista pa po kayang pupunta kung malaman nila na naging quarantine area ang isang lugar sa Capas?" he told CNN Philippines on Friday.

[Translation: If there's a stigma because of its use as a quarantine area it will affect the economy of Capas...will tourists still come if they learn that a place in Capas was used as a quarantine area? ]

He added several citizens are planning to take legal action to stop the use of New Clark City as an isolated area. He said that if the citizens' and the local government's efforts fail, they will ask for the help of the Departments of Health and Interior in dealing with the situation.

BCDA assured the municipality of Capas that they are working to ensure its citizens won't be placed at risk.

"All preventive and precautionary measures are being put in place by the Task Force not only for our repatriated kababayans, but to also ensure that the adjacent communities of New Clark City and all Capaseños are kept safe and protected," it said in a statement.