Lack of discipline? Housing problem led to spike in COVID-19 cases in Cebu City

Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella. Photo: Labella/FB
Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella. Photo: Labella/FB

The lack of space in slum areas led to the spike of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City, Mayor Edgardo Labella said today, denying the allegation that it was the residents’ obstinance that turned the town into the new epicenter of the pandemic in the Philippines.

President Rodrigo Duterte had said multiple times in public that it was Cebuanos’ stubbornness and overconfidence that caused the increase of coronavirus patients in the area. Cebu City is the only place in the Philippines that remains under the enhanced community quarantine, the strictest form of lockdown.

In an interview with cable channel ANC this morning, Mayor Labella said most COVID-19 cases came from slum areas, where houses were separated by just thin walls.

Read: Deployment of volunteer doctors to Cebu City suspended following outcry

“Cebu has a huge number of informal settlers, whom we call squatters. These villages, actually, as you can see they have the most number of cases. [M]any villages, like Luz and Mambaling, the houses are separated by walls. It will be very difficult [to have] physical and social distancing,” Labella said.

However, Labella said that they are grateful that they are getting support from Duterte, who sent Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to oversee the national government’s pandemic response in Cebu City.

“Of course, we are glad that the president has sent us Secretary Cimatu to muster enough support from the other agencies in government, especially the national police and the military. We can implement more strictly the disciplinary measures,” the mayor added.

Labella also said that Cebu City was one of the first places in the country to conduct mass testing, something that the Department of Health is incapable of doing on a national scale. However, test results came out late, and residents who were unaware of being infected broke their quarantines and ended up infecting other people.

Read: Cebu Provincial Capitol to shut down after 15 employees infected with COVID-19

“The result would come out two weeks or even three weeks thereafter so that those who had been found positive because the results have not yet been revealed…were going out of the house,” Labella said.

Despite being subjected to Duterte’s tirades, Cebu City is supposedly doing quite well because their recovery rate is higher than the national average.

“By way of percentage, we could simply say our recovery rate is 52%. Vis-a-vis the recovery rate at the national level which is at 27%, we have done quite good in so far as our intervention [on COVID-19] is concerned,” he said.

Labella added that they would continue to conduct coronavirus tests to identify patients, even if it would make it appear that the pandemic in Cebu City is worsening.

“I don’t care if we register the most number of positive COVID-19 cases. What is important for me is our moral and legal duty to identify the COVID-19 patients and prevent COVID-19 [transmission],” he said.

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