Gov’t asked to set return to work guidelines after ECQ

A HOUSE leader on Sunday called on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to set out guidelines for people returning to work in areas where the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will be lifted on April 30.

House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said the guidelines must include requiring private companies and local government units (LGUs) to have their employees undergo rapid testing for COVID-19, stressing it is “the only way to get back to a semblance of normalcy.”

Herrera said the government may consider offering tax credit or any incentive to private companies to offset the cost of the testing. This is to make sure the same will not be passed on to consumers and that such requirement will not result in higher inflation rate, she explained.

“Mass testing of workers is a must to ensure the safety of everyone and to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19 in areas that will no longer be covered by ECQ starting May 1, which happens to be Labor Day,” Herrera said.

In a related development, House Assistant Majority Leader and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Niña Taduran called for a comprehensive psychological training of law enforcers to address situations involving distressed people and those who are mentally challenged.

Taduran expressed belief that the fatal shooting of retired Private First Class Winston A. Ragos could have been averted if the enforcers were trained in recognizing and handling people who have mental health problems.

“Maximum tolerance should have been observed in dealing with violators of the enhanced community quarantine especially at this time when everyone’s getting agitated and depressed because of the uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation,” said Taduran.

“It was obvious that Ragos was mentally ill when, according to reports, he approached the policemen manning the checkpoint and hurled invectives on them, for no apparent reason,” Taduran added.

Taduran said that under Republic Act (RA) No. Number 11036, the rights of those who are suffering from mental illness should be protected.

“Maybe it’s time to look at the Philippine Mental Health Act because it does not cover how law enforcers should deal with people who are suffering from mental illness,” said Taduran.

Improved mental health support for the battle-scarred police and military can also help in reducing such unfortunate situations.

Ragos served in the battles in the provinces and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

Herrera also said that only those who test negative for the virus will be allowed to return to work, while those positive must be brought immediately to hospitals or quarantine facilities set up by the LGUs.

“LGUs must put in place a system or protocol, especially in transporting workers who will test positive for COVID-19 to hospitals or quarantine facilities, depending on the gravity or weakness of the symptoms,” said Herrera.

“Those who have symptoms, such as fever, cough, colds and sore throat, should not be allowed to return to work even if their test was negative,” she added.

To ensure that the testing requirement will not cause additional burden to consumers and businesses already bearing the brunt of the worst public health crisis of this generation, Herrera said the government can offer private firms tax incentives corresponding to the cost of having all their employees tested for COVID-19.

“The IATF may coordinate with the Department of Finance and the Department of Trade and Industry on how the government can help private companies comply with the testing requirement,” Herrera said.

“It can be in the form of tax credit or allowing companies to declare the cost of the testing as deductible expenses that can be subtracted from their income before it is subject to taxation,” she added.

At the same time, Herrera urged the IATF to require private companies and LGUs to disinfect their workplaces daily and prepare sufficient protective supplies for their employees.

“Disinfection must be done on a daily basis and employees returning to work must be provided with appropriate protective equipment, particularly face mask and face shield, and ensure they have space to be at least two meters apart,” the party-list lawmaker said.

She said social or physical distancing should be observed at all times, especially in crowded places like malls, and must be accepted as the “new normal.”