Because of the Covid-19 enhanced community quarantine, the national government is now finalizing the mechanisms for the “Balik Probinsiya Program” or the program that will relocate the people from highly congested Metro Manila and urban centers to their home provinces. But while the national government is still ironing things out, some provincial governments are already making their moves. They are transporting their constituents from Metro Manila to the provinces while the community quarantines are in effect. But is the move timely?
Among the provincial governments that are busy moving their constituents are Camarines Sur and Sorsogon. Unfortunately, these are being met with resistance because of the following:
- The residents from Manila and key cities may be asymptomatic carriers of Coronavirus. Almost all of them, in fact, have not undergone any rapid testing yet. This is not impossible. In fact, Iloilo Mayor Jerry Treñas lamented that 22 of the repatriates allowed by Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac to go back to Iloilo are Covid-19 positive.
- The local health system is not ready to treat Covid-19 patients. Assuming that those brought to the provinces are asymptomatic, are the local health systems ready? The answer is a resounding no. While the country has a total of 1,223 hospitals, only 36% of these can accommodate Covid-19 patients. Most of these hospitals are in key cities particularly in Metro Manila. In Bicol Region alone which is home to more than 2 million population, Covid-19 patients are brought to two major hospitals only — the Bicol Regional Teaching and Training Hospital (BRTTH), and the Bicol Medical Center
- The frontliners both medical and health-related personnel are not ready, and are continually decreasing as they also need to undergo Covid-testing and monitoring. And they are now starting to complain because there are many persons suspected and monitored for Covid-19.
- There are only 22 accredited Covid testing centers and 17 of them are in Manila. The rest are in the Cordillera Administrative Region and in Regions V, VI, VII, and XI. In short, those joining the Balik-Probinsiya Program at this time need to undergo testing because they are automatically treated as suspects. In short, they will be an addition to the number of individuals being tested by the centers. And note, these testing centers are barely coping up with the current work demand and are already experiencing backlogs.
- Aside from frontliners and medical workers, there is also a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs). With the increasing number of individuals suspected with Covid-19, demand for PPEs will automatically increase.
- The economy is on a slump and resources are depleting. With the increasing number of Covid-19 suspects, we are reallocating the limited resources to those availing of the Balik-Probinsiya Program.
- Worse, those availing the Balik-Probinsiya Program will be endangering the lives of their family members, and members of their communities. Assuming that they are not asymptomatic, they are spreading fears and triggering anxieties with their presence.
Hence, while the Balik-Probinisya Program has benefits, it depends on the timeliness of its implementation. At this time when Covid-19 cases are still increasing, implementing the program clearly is not yet appropriate.