Special gov’t guidelines on pandemic sought

A former party-list congressman who heads an infrastructure-oriented think tank on Wednesday called on Malacañang to implement special guidelines on confronting the coronavirus pandemic in urban poor communities.

“We are expecting no pause in the exponential increase of positive coronavirus tests in the coming days as the health department ramps up testing in national and subnational laboratories. As such, there is great urgency for government in the controlling the spread of the disease within our most vulnerable population - those living in urban poor communities,” said former Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convenor and former Presidential Commission for Urban Poor chairperson.

“The primary concern for urban poor communities cannot be overstated. No less than United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (UN IASC) protocol for Covid-19 has identified communities camps, informal settlements and urban slums as requiring special consideration in COVID-19 readiness and response operations,” Ridon explained.

Ridon underscored the importance of limiting the risks of transmission arising from movement, overcrowding, climatic exposure due to substandard shelter and poor nutrition and health within urban poor communities.

“As overcrowding within communities and homes is the main concern in these areas, an entirely separate quarantine center should be activated. Under no circumstances should Covid-19 positive persons, persons under investigation (PUI) and persons under monitoring (PUM) be allowed to mingle in their communities to avoid local transmission,” said Ridon.

He said local governments units (LGUs) should convert community multipurpose buildings and idle facilities as additional quarantine centers.

“Many of these local facilities have been used for several things irrelevant during this pandemic. LGUs can unburden the load of the national government by using these facilities for quarantine,” said Ridon.

Ridon also said hand washing facilities should be made available by water utilities in slum communities to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

“We call on water utilities and local water districts to install hand washing and temporary sanitation facilities in slum communities within their concession areas to serve as a main deterrent against the coronavirus,” said Ridon.

Ridon said the availability of hand washing and sanitation facilities in urban poor communities can greatly decrease the risk of transmission, consistent with national and international protocols.

“Without clean and safe running water in our slums, calls to wash our hands will be unsuccessful. We should ensure that our communities have 24/7 access to water at this time,” he said.

During the course of the coronavirus crisis, Ridon said there were several instances in which slum dwellers were given the shorter end of the stick.

“There was an instance in which COVID-19 positive patients from urban poor communities were sent home to self-quarantine. But the question is, how in the world can urban poor patients do this when their bedroom is also their kitchen and living room?” Ridon said.

Ridon said that for the urban poor, “when it is warm, they feel warmer, and when it is cold, they feel colder.”

“The special protocol should underscore their vulnerability in this crisis. They are not only vulnerable in terms of income loss, but also in terms of medical access and protection. Most important, the special protocol will allow government to focus more on economic relief instead of containing outbreaks within these communities," said Ridon.