By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
The reality of the Philippine pandemic situation seems to have kicked in when Malacanang decided last Tuesday to abort the implementation of its new granular lockdowns strategy in arresting the spread of COVID-19 in Metro Manila.
Amid all preceding press releases that authorities were ready to implement the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) with Alert Level system, the new strategy is full of holes.
First, up-to-date and accurate data on the number of infected and reproduction or infection rates are a premise to determining whether or not a specific area – a street, subdivision, barangay, or entire city – should be locked down.
The World Health Organization (WHO) made this clear if the granular lockdown strategy is to succeed. But many times over, experts have pointed out that the daily tally released by the Department of Health (DOH) has considerable “disconnect” with actual and real-time figures on the ground.
Second, loosening up mobility restrictions at a time when the daily COVID-19 caseload is up the roof is monumentally contrary to all the principles that worked in the past in tempering down the surges.
Claims that the present daily infection rate is “still within the 22,000 – 25,000 projection” do not make the situation less alarming for government to sanction greater freedom in movement, much less 30-50 percent capacity for dine-in restaurants, salons, spas, and other personal service establishments.
As much as we all commiserate with the business sector, addressing the unprecedented rise in COVID-19 cases deserves top priority because lives are at stake.
It’s not like the healthcare sector can absorb a worsening of the surge. Hospitals and quarantine facilities are at critical levels. In addition, a shortage in the treatment drug Tocilizumab until December emerged as a new challenge. Vaccination rates have slowed down because medical frontliners are needed more in hospitals dealing with overcapacity.
There is much to be asked of the government’s pandemic response before untested strategies are shifted. We’ll spell them out again: a doubling if not tripling of periodic testing for COVID-19, which can only happen if it were subsidized or given for free; an efficient contact-tracing system; a speedier and expanded vaccination program that requires the hiring of more medical personnel and, hopefully, greater involvement of the private sector. And if necessary, another hard lockdown, especially since border controls and social protocols are weak.
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