SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — For several weeks, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) officials and Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC) management kept a lid on incidents of Covid-19 positive cases in the latter’s container terminal here until the number reached double digits, leaving workers afraid and feeling “betrayed.”
“July pa usap-usapan na may positive dito sa SBITC pero ngayon lang nila inilabas,” said a port worker who requested not to be named for fear of losing his job, “wala naman kami choice kailangan maghanap-buhay pero sana naman nasabihan kami.”
“Araw-araw may update ang SBMA pero walang binabanggit na meron nang positive sa SBITC kung hindi pa dumami,” another told Subic Bay News, “lagi na lang kami kinakabahan dahil puro tsismis lang sa terminal ang aming nalalaman.”
The proliferation of Covid-19 positive cases at SBITC was made public only on Monday (August 17) when SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said in a press release that a total of 14 positive cases have already been recorded among SBITC workers since July 30 and that she has ordered the SBITC to have all their employees tested for the new coronavirus disease.
“It was either mass testing by RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) or shutdown of terminal operations—that’s the only choice left if we wanted to contain the outbreak,” Eisma said.
She said the SBMA also required disinfection of the whole terminal complex, closure of engineering and maintenance areas subject to focused disinfection, and daily in-house disinfection.
“Thankfully, the SBITC management was very cooperative in our strategy to contain the spread, as we knew that closure is a last resort because testing is the key to preventing the spread and that the Red Cross lab at our doorstep makes for fast turnaround for results,” she added.
She said that SBITC president Roberto Locsin has given the assurance that aside from those already traced and tested after some workers turned out positive, all other personnel working in the container terminal will undergo RT-PCR test.
These include a total of 238 shift workers, port users, security personnel, canteen staff, and even SBMA checkers.
According to contact tracing records received by the SBMA Public Health and Safety Department, at least 50 employees have been identified as close contacts after the first Covid-19 infection at SBITC.
The PHSD said that after the first worker tested positive, tracing identified 15 contacts in the workforce. When three of the 15 contacts tested positive on Aug. 7, 25 close contacts were identified in turn and of these, seven came out positive. Since then, three other positive cases were recorded.
Of the 14 infected workers, nine are from Olongapo City, four from Zambales, and one from Aurora.
Only two of the confirmed cases have been admitted to a hospital, as the rest, who are mostly asymptomatic, were placed on home quarantine.
In messages to Chairman Eisma, Locsin said that they have also initiated other measures to arrest the infection in the workplace, according to the SBMA statement.
Aside from contact tracing and immediate quarantining of close contacts, the firm had since closed the administration building to visitors, started issuing gate passes online, encouraged online payments, closed the operations barracks, ordered the mandatory wearing of face mask and face shield, and prohibited dine-in at the company canteen.
Locsin also said terminal facilities have been disinfected first by the SBMA Fire Department on Aug. 8 to 10, and the next by a third party contractor on Aug. 11. More disinfection was made on Aug. 15 and 16.
For the mass testing scheduled on Monday, Eisma said that swabbing booths have been set up by SBITC at the terminal, with two mobile swab booths loaned by the SBMA for contingency.
Two medical technologists were assigned at the container terminal to take swab samples starting at 9 a.m. from 80 SBITC staff already stationed at the terminal, while three others at the SBMA swabbing center near the Subic main gate for samples from the other 158 SBITC workers who would be coming mostly from Olongapo City.
Eisma said that test results can be generated within 24 to 48 hours, depending on the volume of samples tested at the Red Cross molecular laboratory here in the Freeport.
SBITC is among several businesses in the Subic Bay Freeport which remained active throughout the different quarantine stages due to the pandemic, servicing cargo ships from various Asian countries, including China, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. (VVV)