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Mayor Petilla seeks understanding on ban for returning LSIs

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TACLOBAN CITY – Local officials in Leyte asked residents stranded in other regions to understand the decision to temporarily suspend travel to their home province as one of the measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Palo town Mayor Frances Ann Petilla, League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Leyte chapter president, said they have sought the travel ban to shield their communities from the highly-contagious disease.

“We cannot allow locally stranded individuals (LSIs) to return without a space for them in quarantine facilities. They might infect their family if they will just stay at home if in case they are virus carriers,” Petilla said during the Leyte Provincial Peace and Order Council meeting on Saturday.

The town has converted the former South Korean military base camp into an isolation facility and identified several schools as quarantine and isolation facilities for suspected and confirmed Covid-19 carriers.

The town has 16 Covid-19 confirmed cases, which include LSIs and health workers.

The mayor said that although she welcomed the decision to suspend travel to Leyte and Samar provinces for two weeks, she is concerned about the plight of stranded residents in Metro Manila and Cebu.

Alangalang, Leyte Mayor Lovell Anne Yu said stranded residents should understand the situation since their town’s isolation area has very limited space. The town has 21 Covid-19 patients and 19 of them are LSIs.

About 500 Alangalang residents stranded in other regions have signified their intention to go home. This is on top of individuals who arrived in their town by hitch-hiking on vehicles transporting medicines.

The town’s quarantine and isolation facilities can accommodate 289 persons. Newly-arrived residents have to stay at the quarantine facility while waiting for the swab test result. If they turn positive, they are transferred to the isolation facility for proper care. As of June 26, the town has 182 LSIs.

“Our town is not that big. We don’t have that many resources for us to accommodate them all. That’s why I welcome the decision granting the mayor’s request to the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force to temporarily stop allowing LSIs to return home until we are able to decongest our quarantine facilities,” Yu added.

Yu was among the mayors who wrote a letter to Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) requesting the temporary suspension of LSIs to return to the region.

“If after July 9, we will experience another surge of arrival and experience the same problem, definitely we will again request for another two-week suspension until such time that all individuals inside our quarantine and isolation facilities are reintegrated to their communities,” she added.

Among the six provinces in the region, Leyte has the most number of Covid-19 cases, surpassing Samar province, which used to be the most affected area from April to May this year.

As of June 27, Leyte has 199 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Areas with high cases of Covid-19 are Baybay City (31), Alangalang (21), and Bato and La Paz town with 16 cases each.

Around 4,600 LSIs returned to Leyte in the past three weeks since the government relaxed its quarantine protocols allowing travels going out of big cities such as Metro Manila and Cebu. They arrived through rented vehicles while others through ferry and planes.

Now that the return of stranded residents to the region has been suspended, new protocols were added on top of securing travel permits and medical certificates, and mandatory rapid and swab testing.

Governor Petilla said he prefers that the testing would be done in the province than in the place of origin of LSIs to come up with a more accurate result.

Doing the testing in other regions will not assure local governments in Leyte that the LSI is coronavirus-free since they might acquire the virus while traveling, he said.

“The best option that will guarantee that no Covid-19 positive individuals will mingle in the community is when we test them here. We are assured that while they’re waiting for the result, the LSI is inside the quarantine facility,” Petilla said.

DILG Secretary Eduardo Año on June 25 approved the plan to suspend the travel of LSIs to Eastern Visayas for 14 days as part of Covid-19 containment measures.

Local officials in the region made the recommendation due to the soaring number of Covid-19 cases in the area.

In a formal request sent by local government officials to the regional IATF, they asked for a minimum of the two-week interval before LSIs and overseas Filipino workers will be allowed to travel to their hometowns in Eastern Visayas.

The time will allow local authorities to recover from “human fatigue”, replenish supplies, and disinfect quarantine and isolation facilities.

When the cases of Covid-19 in the region started to spike this month, some local governments decided to temporarily stop accepting LSIs due to congestion in their quarantine facilities.

Eastern Visayas has 469 Covid-19 cases as of June 27 with 132 recoveries and three deaths in the towns of Kananga, Leyte; Kawayan, Biliran; and Tarangnan, Samar. (PNA)

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