‘Mass testing not checkpoints’: MMDA told amid plans for Alert Level 3

January 4, 2022 - 6:38 PM
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New Year's Eve bus station
People wearing face masks as protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) wait to ride a bus going to provinces, a day before the New Year's Eve, at a bus terminal in Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Dec. 30, 2021. (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

Calls for medical-oriented solutions arose after the Metro Manila Development Authority said that it will possibly reinstate checkpoints in the National Capital Region after its COVID-19 alert level escalated.

MMDA Chairperson Benhur Abalos mentioned the possibility of the return of checkpoints in a televised interview on Tuesday where he was asked if checkpoints “would be back in place” in light of NCR’s shift to Alert Level 3 of the COVID-19 alert level system.

“It could be. It could be that we could have these random checkpoints. We will discuss these things with the NCRPO para lang makita ng publiko that we are really serious in these things,” he told ONE NEWS’ “Agenda,” referring to the National Capital Region Police Office.

The government had placed the metro, as well as some of its surrounding provinces, under Alert Level 3 until January 15 due to the rise in coronavirus cases among the public.

Under this alert level, business establishments are allowed to operate at 30% of indoor capacities and 50% for outdoor venues.

Face-to-face classes and contact sports are not allowed under this alert level.

READ: Philippines limits mobility, business in NCR over Omicron threat

The government’s announcement coincides with the health department’s admission that it has detected local cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant in the country.

“Nakita naman natin sa mga nakaraang araw na nag-increase exponentially ang mga kaso dahil sa holiday activities kung saan tumaas ang movement ng mga tao, at bumaba ang compliance sa minimum public health standards,” acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said on Dec. 31, 2021.

“Isa rin sa dahilan ang detection ng local cases ng Omicron variant. The epidemiological investigation on the 3 local cases indicates there is [a] high possibility of local transmission ng Omicron,” he added.

Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a molecular biologist and OCTA Research fellow, shared a graph on Tuesday which he said showed how COVID-19 cases in the NCR has seen a “dramatic rise” in recent days.

“Here is a comparison of the current surge with the original Delta surge in the NCR that began at the end of July,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Abalos’ comments about the possible comeback of checkpoints under Alert Level 3 didn’t sit well with some Filipinos who urged the MMDA to consider other medical-oriented solutions.

“This is how they want to show they’re serious when we have been clamoring for free mass testing and improved contact tracing since day 1!” a Twitter user said in response to the report.

“MASS TESTING PO KAILANGAN,” another online user commented.

“Magpa-mass testing kayo at mamigay ng masks. Dagdagan mass transportation,” a different Twitter account said.

“Sana checkpoint tapos magpa-surprise RT-PCR. Para naman may silbe ‘yang checkpoint niyo. Char,” another Filipino tweeted, referring to the reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction test which is the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.

Checkpoints were also enforced in lockdowns last year as part of the government’s efforts to ensure that only authorized persons outside of residence or APORs are out and about.

Those who are deemed unauthorized will not be allowed to pass and will be asked to return to their homes.

The initiative aims to restrict people’s movements whenever COVID-19 cases are high or increasing.

The World Health Organization has repeatedly stressed that mass testing remains one of the best ways to slow the advance of the pandemic.

“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases, they cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in March 2020.

The WHO chief said cases cannot be isolated without testing and that the chain of infection in a community will not be broken if there is no detection.