MANILA – To strengthen the country’s capacity to detect and contain infectious diseases, Senator Francis Tolentino on Wednesday said he is pushing for a measure that will give the Department of Health (DOH) the power to lock down certain areas, and suspend classes during health emergencies.
In an interview, Tolentino pointed out that the continuing threat of Covid-19 has made it imperative for the government to adapt and change how the country combats infectious diseases.
He said this is the reason why he filed Senate Bill No. 1408, or the Health Emergency Lockdown Act.
The proposed measure, which he filed Tuesday, seeks to amend Republic Act No. 9271 or the Quarantine Act of 2004.
Tolentino noted that under the existing law, the DOH, through the Bureau of Quarantine, has the regulatory capacity over incoming and outgoing vessels and aircraft, cargoes, passengers, crews, and all personal effects to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of public health emergencies of international concern.
“With SB 1408, the DOH power to quarantine persons will not just be limited to those that traveled through vessels and aircraft, but also includes those traveling from one local government unit (LGU) to another, if warranted by health or medical advisories,” he said.
“The DOH shall also have the authority, in times of public health emergencies, to lockdown infected areas and to suspend classes so as to contain infectious diseases wherever its incidence may have occurred,” Tolentino said.
In case the DOH decides to lock down an infected area, the chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government said lockdown procedures will be undertaken in coordination with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
The proposed measure also gives DOH the power to designate even private hospitals as facilities for referral of persons under investigation.
Tolentino noted that this is an “important” provision amid allegations that certain hospitals are turning down suspected Covid-19 patients.
SB 1408 also authorizes the agency to establish quarantine centers in addition to quarantine stations which are managed by the Bureau of Quarantine.
It also authorizes the head of the Bureau, with the approval of the Secretary of Health, and in coordination with the DILG Secretary, to promulgate and enforce rules and regulations deemed necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of “public health emergencies of international concern” from foreign countries into the Philippines, or from one LGU to another.
“So ngayon maliwanag na, hindi gaya ngayon na nangangapa tayo (it is now clear-cut, unlike now that we are still feeling our way),” Tolentino said.
He admitted however that SB 1408 may not be passed soon enough as Wednesday is the last day of session before Congress goes on its Lenten break.
“Last day of session ngayon baka hindi na rin maipasa, pero binubuksan natin sa kaisipan ng Kongreso at sa ating kababayan na kailangan meron tayong tamang procedure (it may not be passed, but we are opening to the mind of Congress and to our people, that we need to have proper procedures),” Tolentino said. (PNA)