Are we ready to open?

"Those who had to start reporting for work had to walk because there was no public transportation."


This question is being asked as more and more citizens are experiencing excruciating problems with the manner by which easing up is being implemented. Those who choose to stay at home are inundated with reports about the wayward ways by which some people greeted the switch from ECQ to MECQ. And we are not yet talking here about non-adherence to safety/health protocols which is basic – just the sheer chaos which attended last Saturday’s easing.

Cavite Governor JonVic Remulla, for example, had to order the closure of all malls in the province just a day after transiting to MECQ. He lamented that people rushed to the malls in droves, creating horrendous traffic and turning the malls and their environs into big campsites (some said rally sites) with packed crowds elbowing each other to get into place as if there is no tomorrow. The fact that all kinds of people from youngsters to the elderly, big and small, with kids or families in tow, masks or none, without regard for any of the protocols at all, as if the pandemic has been suppressed, so angered Remulla he called the mall owners irresponsible to their faces.

He then lectured the crowds that if they don't watch out he will order the confiscation of their quarantine passes, if they had any at all anyway. They should not to treat these as if they were freedom passes.

That kind of pandemonium was not limited to Cavite.

Other provinces had the same experience. People went on a rampage as if the deadly virus had gone away. In almost all areas in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic, people took off like caged animals, clogging the streets including EDSA and flocking to the malls despite pleas from officials and the enforcers to take things easy and get out of the house only if extremely necessary.

But lack of discipline and self control may not be the only problem.

A graver one is the manner by which those in charge of battling this invisible enemy, the ones tasked to think things through by providing simple, responsible and reasonable guidelines, seem to have lost part of their bearings and have created a kind of virtual reality which they would like people to believe and follow.

The case of that basic protocol, 3Ts (Test, Treat/Isolate and Trace) to stem the tide transmission appears to have been stuck somewhere in the bureaucratic maze, leaving us wondering: Where have all the promises and, yes, funding, gone? Weeks before lockdown, in early January when reports coming out of Wuhan pointed to a possible outbreak, President Duterte already said that we should all be prepared. he released some P2 billion to start preparations for an outbreak.

At that time, the 3Ts formula was already being talked about as the surest way to delay any possibility of an outbreak. Now, more than three months after, we have yet to see traces of any improvement in getting that done with all deliberate speed. We are hearing DoH officials promising to ramp things up from their present 8,000 tests per day by "outsourcing" that responsibility to the already overworked and underfunded LGUs. Three months after, we are still whistling in the wind trying to get this most basic feature of our battle plan on track. And they are dreaming of getting to a level of 30,000 tests per day 12 days from now. Wow.

With that kind of a record, perhaps it is time the IATF and its lead agency, DoH, heeded the advice of Dr. Mahar Mangahas, founder of the survey firm Social Weather Stations (SWS) and simply do random testing. At least, that will spare us the trouble of waiting for nothing and, more importantly, giving us a better and more accurate handle on our situation at this point so we can be guided accordingly. Here's what he said in his article "Random Testing Is What We Need" published last May 16 in the Inquirer:

"The highly publicized errors in the recording of the results of COVID-19 testing are, in my opinion, only common glitches that can be corrected as one goes along. The critical issue regarding testing is not how massive they need to be, but how they can be used for guidance on policies that affect the entire population, and not only those that need medical treatment or isolation/quarantine.

Random testing for COVID-19 in Austria....which says that it is “the first study in continental Europe based upon nationwide PCR testing in a representative national sample.” This SORA study, dated 4/30/20, uses precisely what I have advocated as the most scientific way to estimate the full (i.e. including the hidden) COVID-19 infection rate, and thereby analyze the full impact of the pandemic on the population (“Random testing versus clinical testing,” 5/2/20).

Austria now has a national total of 16,058 cases and 626 deaths from COVID-19, which means 1,783 cases and 70 deaths per million Austrians; the Philippines has a national total of 11,876 cases and 790 deaths, or 108 cases and 7 deaths per million Filipinos. The Austrian case rate is 17 times, and its death rate is 10 times, that of the Philippines. The SORA study is based on a statistically representative national sample of only 1,544 respondents, PCR-tested by the Austrian Red Cross on April 1-6, and then interviewed about their contacts, mobility, etc. by telephone on April 6-10. A scientific survey is actually very systematic: stratified into large cities, medium towns, and small towns; chosen at random from telephone directories, with only a few per sample point; prior permission obtained by telephone; households visited personally or else asked to come to a testing center; the entire family was tested, including children if permitted.

Random testing is on the way in Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is about to start its own random testing, using samples of 1,000 per province. Indonesia has a present national total of 16,006 cases and 1,043 deaths; this means 59 cases and 4 deaths per million Indonesians, or much lower than the rates among Filipinos. It will need 8,000 tests to do an Austrian-type study seeking data for eight specific provinces, each of which is the size of a small country.

The Philippines will need only 4,000 tests for a comparable study, applicable to the nation as a whole and to the National Capital Region, the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao separately. I think this is quite affordable.

For every million persons of its population, Indonesia has done 635 tests, the Philippines has done 1,729 tests, and Austria has done 38,262 tests. Yet all those tests produce data only pertinent to the specific persons tested, and not to the rest of the people of the country. Whatever the size of the country, the accuracy of estimation of the true infection depends on the absolute number of tests—assuming they are applied to a statistically random sample—and not on the proportion of the tests to the population."

That's for the 3Ts part which we have yet to at least get responsibly done to ensure, as the UP Resilience Team correctly advised, that we do not make policies culled from "troubling data" generated from the DoH figures. Which is precisely what we experienced a day after the easing and which we continue to experience up to now. The crowds, the traffic, the disregard for the basic protocols in the streets and in the malls and, get this, the off and on designation of certain areas from ECQ to GCQ back to ECQ or MECQ are just part of the very unfortunate consequences of the seemingly cavalier and unrealistic policies which have emanated from the denizens of the IATF. Take the policy for the malls. Did the IATF and the mall owners advise the people that only certain portions of the mall will be opened? Were the stall owners, the retail shops and the workers of these shops allowed to be opened consulted at all on how the opening will be undertaken? What about the communities in and around the malls? Mukhang hindi. Otherwise, the malls and the LGUs would have put in place the necessary safeguards to ensure that the traffic flow and the crowds would be controlled.

In fact, the more basic question should be this: Did the IATF ever consult those who they encouraged to go back to work how they can actually do that without the needed public transportation? Remember, most of the workers who will go back to work are doing so physically, not virtually, and do not have their own means of transportation. Reports of despair were heard all over the place on the first day of real work last Monday as workers had to walk to work – yes, walk to work for hours since they had no means to get by. To top things off, they also complained about the fact that not all of them got their share of the government's special assistance fund: not from the DSWD, not from the LGUs, not from the DOLE, not from the SSS in the case of private employees. One company reportedly owned by key members of the IATF did not even care to have all of its employees given their just share from any of the special assistance programs. Worse, after the IATF ordered that those companies deciding to open after the easing should provide for shuttle or transport services for their employees. Did this guy's company provide one? None at all. NADA. And he expects others, specially the small shop owners to follow? Ano siya, hilo?

These are just bits and pieces of information on the manner by which we have conducted ourselves over the past three months on the way to easing. And only about two on the checklist of what needs to be done.

And we are talking about opening up?

Topics: Jonathan Dela Cruz , Enhanced Community Quarantine , ECQ , Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine , MECQ , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19 , Department of Health , DOH , IATF
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