Early lockdown, agencies’ coordination: How Batanes has remained COVID-free, according to its governor

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While the country has been seeing consecutive spikes in daily recorded COVID-19 cases, the province of Batanes has remained free from the coronavirus.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 16)— While the country has been seeing consecutive spikes in daily recorded COVID-19 cases, the province of Batanes has remained free from the coronavirus.

How did the province manage to keep the mysterious virus at bay?

CNN Philippines spoke to Batanes governor Marilou Cayco to learn more about the local government’s initiatives and practices to battle the COVID-19 crisis:

Island location

Cayco, in an interview with Newsroom Weekend on Sunday, admitted the province’s far-flung location played a part in containing the entry of the virus.

Malaking advantage 'yung isla kami at mahirap mapuntahan. At mahal pong pumunta sa Batanes (It’s a big advantage that we’re an island and it’s hard to travel here. It’s also expensive to go here),” Cayco said when asked how the province maintained its virus-free status.

Early lockdown, preventive measures

Lockdown and other health measures were also implemented early, as the provincial government has been monitoring the coronavirus situation in China— where the disease outbreak started— as early as December.

Cayco said the local government has also assigned coronavirus monitoring teams in the province’s ports since January.

“Alam ko na maraming kabuhayan at trabaho ang maaapektuhan pag sinara namin ang Batanes. Pero, namili rin kami— ekonomiya ba o kalusugan? Siyempre, pinili nami ang kalusugan,” the governor said.

[Translation: I know there will be a lot of workers who will be affected once we close Batanes to visitors but we chose between health and economy. Of course, we chose health.]

Around 1,500 workers in Batanes have been displaced due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Cayco said. The quarantine measures also translated to a ₱500-million loss for the local tourism industry, she added.

Cayco said the affected employees not included in the national government’s social amelioration program were provided a ₱3,000 cash assistance. Livelihood loans were also presented for other residents affected by the pandemic.

Good coordination between agencies

Cayco likewise gave credit to both the public and private sectors, which she said coordinated well with each other amid the health crisis.

She commended the work done by the area’s medical frontliners, local officials, backliners, and uniformed personnel, among others.

LSIs welcome, but strict quarantine needed

Cayco stressed the locally stranded individuals coming from Metro Manila are welcome home, provided they observe strict quarantine protocols.

“We accept LSI but we strictly implement the 14-day quarantine closely monitored by frontliners and men in uniform. Mahigpit ho kami doon (We’re very strict when it comes to this),” she added.

To date, over 300 LSIs have been transported to the province.

Residents’ compliance

Lastly, the governor lauded Batanes’ residents for their discipline, compliance with health protocols, as well as their “common sense of community and responsibility”— factors she said that have immensely helped the province in its fight against the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the provinces of Siquijor, Aurora, and Quirino all reported their first cases of the virus after months of being COVID-free.

COVID-19 infections in the country have surpassed 157,000, with over 4,000 new cases reported on Saturday.