FIRING LINE: Another Lockdown?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

While the deadline set for this column prohibits me from reacting to yesterday’s developments in the Senate, this is one of the strange days when I feel neither here nor there on two pressing issues at hand.

Expectedly, the Senate Committee of the Whole had already convened yesterday (Jan. 11) to tackle the government’s pandemic response roadmap with focus on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. On the other hand, both houses of Congress are seen to revive proposals for Charter change in tomorrow’s (Jan. 13) sessions.

Stating my predicament on writing this piece days ahead of publication compares to whatever the Senate accomplished yesterday in terms of aiding the government’s overall pandemic response in the immediate and near future.

The problems posed by this pandemic are ever-changing, just as the disease itself, COVID-19, is mutating and presenting greater and unpredictable risks. Take, for example, the so-called “UK variant” of the coronavirus, which infectious disease experts say is 40%-70% more contagious than the dominant strain that spread around the globe. They see a nine-fold increase in infections once this new variant reaches our shores.

If at all, the travel ban covering the 28 countries with reported cases of the UK strain only delays the new COVID-19 variant’s entry into our country. Dr. Jaime Montoya of the DOST believes the new variant may be here already. And there are two more recent variants of the disease — one discovered in South Africa and the other in neighboring Malaysia — which we still know little about.

What science and experience tell us, according to Montoya, is that the more people are infected with a disease, the higher the likelihood of its mutation. Yet, what human behavior tells us is that despite warnings and prohibitions, just last weekend, more than 22,400 people gathered in the streets of Manila for a religious celebration, which even the priests have discouraged months ahead.

For this reason, the government’s pandemic response “game plan” must be flexible enough for recalibration. I won’t be surprised, for example, if another lockdown becomes in order. How does that impact our economy, again? The answer, according to NEDA, is P2.1 billion in lost wages per day in the Greater Manila Area alone.

In this regard, flexibility is best exemplified by the mayors who took it upon themselves to order COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the national government using their local government funds. Kudos to our mayor here in Quezon City, Joy Belmonte, for being one of them.

As for tomorrow’s highly-anticipated debate in Congress on Cha-cha, proponents are insisting the measure to amend the 1987 Constitution is only for correcting economic provisions that restrict certain industries from cornering much-needed foreign investments that would help the country counter the economic impact of the pandemic.

And maybe, just a little tweaking of the Party-list Law to wipe out all the fake sectoral representatives and enemies of the state who benefit from our taxes. We’ll see.

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