FIRING LINE: Lockdown extension seen

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By Robert B. Roque Jr.

So it has come to this – a return to lockdown, at least here in Metro Manila, its adjoining provinces, and the other high-risk areas of this pandemic.

OCTA Research Group had projected a raging resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the first two weeks of the uptick of new cases. Early on, OCTA’s research fellows suggested drastic steps be undertaken to avert what they predicted to be a situation that would overwhelm limited medical personnel and facilities. The Health Professional Alliance Against COVID 19 (HPAAC) had sounded off the alarm, too. But at that time, the Palace was busy patting itself on the back and declaring the pile-up of new cases “maliit na bagay” or “little to worry about.”

I’d hate driving this column into the told-you-so tone. Still, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) is evidently always a step or two behind the wisdom of independent monitors of this health crisis.

It’s no wonder our lawmakers are getting fed up with the comedy of errors in the national policy-making body to combat this pandemic. Their proposed solution – to which this corner is very much in favor – is to get Health Secretary Francisco Duque III out of the thick of things. If his past errors in judgment made him a laughing stock of the administration, now it’s no longer funny.

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Compounding the problem is the Philippine Red Cross (PRC)’s threat to shut its testing facilities for COVID-19 until the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) pays its stacked-up bill of over P822 million. If the PRC cannot sustain its operations, over 10,000 people a day would not be tested.

By the way things are now, it’s already doubtful if our country can keep up with the explosion of infections through more efficient testing and contact tracing. These two are referred to by HPAAC as key aspects of the fight against COVID-19 based on best practices established in other countries like New Zealand.

But then, of course, these are points to ponder which our IATF and National Task Force against COVID-19 fail to comprehend from a progressive worldview. Unfortunately, our government is too sold on the ideas of its many “czars” than adopting strategies and systems which worked for nations with better coping mechanisms to this pandemic.

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And because our pandemic response managers in government are so short-sighted, there’s a high likelihood that this Holy Week lockdown will not be enough to attain its goal of arresting the runaway rate of COVID-19 infections by 25 percent. That means we might as well get used to this ECQ for a bit longer.

That’s why the Duterte administration is pushing for a new round of “ayuda” or cash assistance to the poor. It’s this “give the dog a bone” strategy that polishes the government’s image as a “rescuer,” even if its overall approach is a drag. The same goes for its state-sponsored food, lodging, and transportation benefit that has all but consumed government funds than serve as a sustainable solution.

So, I wish there is hope in vaccines and the concept of herd immunity. And along with that wish, more hope that our country gets to manufacture its own COVID-19 vaccines – as negotiations to make Russia’s Sputnik V and/or any of Serum Institute of India’s products like Novavax’s Covavax or Oxford-AstraZeneca are underway.

In the meantime, we’d better get used to this lockdown. I think it’s here to stay.

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