Convention centers, arenas find new purpose in the time of COVID-19
Crisis has a way of bringing out the best in a nation. For many Filipinos, any new calamity or tragedy often becomes a test of their resiliency, mettle, bayanihan spirit and ingenuity.
Today, the Philippines’ resiliency is being tested anew with the spread of the deadly COVID-19 which by now has claimed lives, caused losses among businesses and have started to impede the country’s economic growth. With limited resources and capacities at hand, the challenge of flattening the curve has become more formidable than ever.
The good news, however, is that the joint efforts of the public and private sectors as well as their resourcefulness in handling this crisis offer a sliver of hope for the country.
For instance, the government has started to convert existing buildings as well as convention and evacuation centers into quarantine facilities as a way to augment the country’s healthcare infrastructure and successfully isolate those who will be categorized as “suspect,” “probable” or “confirmed” (mild or asymptomatic) COVID-19 cases.
“(These quarantine facilities) are really critical. I can’t even put into words how important these facilities are, but they have to be done in conjunction with the entire plan of locating, testing, isolating and curing—it’s all part of the bigger strategy,” said Vivencio B. Dizon, president and CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
“The enhanced community quarantine has already flattened the curve significantly. But flattening the curve with a lockdown is not enough…(We also need) to increase our capacity to isolate and to treat, and these quarantine facilities are meant to do that—they are meant not just to isolate but also to expand our medical facilities instead of just the hospitals being the only ones who will treat all COVID-19 patients. (With these conversions), you now have a new set of facilities that add capacities to treat milder and asymptomatic cases and at the same time isolate them,” Dizon explained in a phone interview with Inquirer.
‘Locate, isolate, cure’
Dizon explained that the idea of converting existing buildings and convention centers into COVID facilities originated from the National Task Force COVID-19, led by its chief implementer, Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr.
Essentially, the overall strategy of the National Task Force is to locate, isolate and cure. Locate refers mainly to the testing, while isolation is where the quarantine facilities come in, after which patients will be treated and cured.
Galvez, according to Dizon, called him and Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar to be part of the “isolation” prong. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was designated to take the lead in building these mega facilities that would house the suspect, probable or confirmed patients, while Dizon was taken to help and coordinate the conversions.
“At the same time, we were already planning on doing that in Clark and we shared our plans with Sec. Galvez. We then immediately expanded to other quarantine sites in NCR,” he added.
To recall, the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City, Tarlac was the first to be repurposed. In early February, the residences here were used as a quarantine facility for the repatriates, the first batch of which were from Wuhan, China. At that time, there was no other facility that can hold them and the only alternative was to put them in hotels in Metro Manila. Since then, it has hosted more than 1,000 repatriates who were put under quarantine.
Given the rising cases, however, the Athletes’ Village will soon house suspect, probable or confirmed (mild and asymptomatic) COVID patients from Pampanga, Tarlac and nearby areas.
List of facilities
In Metro Manila, those being or were already converted into quarantine facilities include World Trade Center, Philippine International Convention Center, Amoranto Stadium, Quezon Institute, Rizal Memorial Complex (step down facility), Duty Free, Veterans Memorial Medical Center, Quezon City Circle, Philsports Complex, FTI, and Filinvest Tent. In Central Luzon, the facilities being or were repurposed include New Clark City Government Center, New Clark City Athletes’ Village, Asean Convention Center and the Philippine Arena.
Dizon stressed how crucial these facilities are as not everyone has the capacity to self-isolate, thus risking the widespread transmission of COVID-19 within their families and communities.
These facilities, which will house “suspect,” “probable” or “confirmed” (mild or asymptomatic) COVID-19 cases, will offer free medical services and food, thanks to the significant contributions of Philippine companies, who also offered to do the conversion, provide electricity, WiFi and other necessary services, supplies and equipment. The more severe and critical cases will be brought to hospitals that have the equipment and treatments needed by the patients.
Although no country—even the first world economies—was prepared for this pandemic, Dizon pointed out that COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for the Philippines to boost its healthcare infrastructure as well as build more multi-use and multipurpose facilities.
“We need to take a closer and more serious look at our healthcare infrastructure because I don’t think this is going to go away anytime soon and I also don’t think this will be the last epidemic or pandemic we will be experiencing. So we got to learn from this,” he said.
“There’s got to be a plan to build facilities that can serve multiple purposes and I think that was really what the New Clark City was for. It was not just meant to be a sports facility—it was meant to be a resilient city and this (COVID-19) was the first test of resiliency for us. There’s really no manual or playbook for something like this. It’s just a matter of having something that’s easily reconfigurable and can easily be used for multiple purposes… It’s better to have it (multipurpose facility) and not need it, than to need it and not have it at this point,” Dizon concluded.
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