"Can we strike the delicate balance?"
Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez is right. The COVID-19 pandemic is not going to go away or be controlled in due time. Unlike the seasonal flu, it will not disappear with the change of weather. It will be with us for some time and we will tiptoe around it until a vaccine or a cure comes to light. We will have to live with it and ensure that our response system is adequate to deal with its ebb and flow.
In the meantime, 113 days after the ECQ declaration, we are all in agreement that we have to reckon not just with saving lives as was our immediate and still continuing concern, but with loss of jobs and livelihood as our world ground to a halt after March 15. Saving one without the other is a formula for disaster. We have to ease up, get the economy to breathe and let our people get back to work (and, yes, spend and consume) without undermining the measures we have put in place to save lives.
Only through a proper, responsible and calibrated balancing of these twin objectives can we successfully transit to a better and sustainable future. How are we to ensure this? How are we to transition from ECQ to a less restrictive environment? What needs to be in place for that to happen?
These and other questions need to be answered properly, responsibly and openly if we are to get rid of the fears and anxieties which have built up over the past four months of quarantine. Indeed, we have to build the kind of confidence necessary not just to get us back on track but to move forward with all the energy and resources we can muster.
As early as April 3 in my column “TEST, TREAT, PROTECT” I already noted that the way forward requires an all-of-society approach which begins and ends with each and every one of us doing the right things not just for ourselves and our families but for our communities and the country as well. Here’s what I said in that column which remains as appropriate then as it is now four months after:
“Let us make one thing clear. The fight against COVID-19 is ours to undertake. Not government alone. Not the medical practitioners. Not the security forces. Not any person or groups of people doing the things that they know need to be done. It needs the total, undivided effort of a nation and, yes, the entire world in the eye of a huge, huge deluge never been experienced in modern times.
This pandemic needs a total, comprehensive, disciplined, science- and fact-based response. Not bits and pieces of information and initiatives meant to answer each and every issue or concern that comes about. That response begins and, hopefully, ends in ourselves and our families. By sticking to the facts and science based protocols we can remain healthy and strong in situ, and from there move on to help restart life under new normal—not business-as-usual.
The hospitals and their dedicated staff should be our last line of defense. We should, as best as we can, endeavor not get into one at all except perhaps in the worst of circumstances. Which is why I urge government and all concerned citizens out there to insist that we get back to the basics before it's too late. First, as I said, keep U and I and our families healthy to retard or completely cut off the spread of this virus by all means possible, medically, economically and socially. The lockdown imposed on the entire Luzon and suggested for implementation, as needed, in Visayas and Mindanao has provided a menu of initiatives and solutions to make this work. Then, the WHO has issued the TTP protocol to finally flatten the curve of infections, and get the country on its track again.
TTP or Test, Treat, Prevent is the WHO’s basic protocol after the initial response of a lock down or, as in the case of South Korea and Singapore a modified ban, has been put in place for the global collaborative efforts meant to combat COVID-19. Indeed this virus has wreaked havoc and changed the landscape worldwide in more ways than one. We have no other recourse but to face up to this newest disease which, as WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus aid, has turned our lives upside down.
Although this protocol has been an extant medical and scientific response to all kinds of diseases, newly discovered or rediscovered, this time around it has gained renewed currency resulting from the fear and panic. In a world experiencing not just an invisible contagion but an epidemic of fake news and misinformation - an infodemic as WHO's chief calls it - so it is well that we are going back and fast tracking such basic formation if only to provide the needed impetus to the international effort to combat the disease.
The focus and immediate concern right now is to flood all countries with the needed resources to the point of rushing the development of reliable diagnostic tests, public health surveillance tools which can detect cases for treatment and isolation. The scarcity of test kit supply worldwide has become a scare in most countries that charges of underreporting have been lodged against health officials. Even the United States, with its vaunted Center for Disease Control (CDC) and related disease prevention network has come under fire after it was found out that it was not only taking its time in undertaking the much needed testing of suspected cases but had in fact botched part of the test protocols in the initial phase of its diagnostic efforts.
Closer to home, DoH officials have been skewered no end for their continued inability to calm the waters, so to speak, with their inexplicable and wishy washy ways in combating COVID-19, starting with the paucity of diagnostic procedures and, of course, the very basic protocols on how to deal with the virus—from information and education advisories to preparation of health first responders to public health facilities including isolation areas to coordination with the private medical care sector and so on and on. Hopefully, with the continued shipment of such kits we will, in the next week or so, be able to put the testing protocols not only in place but widely administered. Then, there is the question of the TP (Treat and Protect) part of the WHO protocol. We have yet to get a clearer idea of what resources, i.e., personnel, facilities, equipment, etc., have been put in place if not countrywide at least the entire Luzon. Do we have consultation-on-demand operations? Can we administer random testing or testing on demand on a much wider and faster rate? Are our barangays up to the task of monitoring each and every household in the area for PUIs and PUMs? Do we have pre-screening and hospitalization areas for mildly symptomatic cases so we do not overwhelm our hospitals? Are our hospitals specially in the provinces fully equipped to deal with COVID-19 patients?
Finally, are the measures meant to protect the general public from the spread of the disease adequate to prevent panic and unrest among the populace now in place? Quite apart from the medical protocols which are mandatory and non-negotiable, are the economic and social measures in place as well? By these we mean food and cash relief, household and community clean up, information and education tools so people will not be prey to fake news and even agitators.
Admittedly, these measures are very hard to undertake. It will take patience and resoluteness to get these going and even so we will have problems along the way.
But that is, I believe, the only way we can win this war against an invisible enemy. There are no shortcuts to it, no magic wands, no instant remedies. And, until such time as we have the vaccines and the needed cures to this pandemic we just have to bear with it. And pray that things will turn for the better. Sooner rather than later. No ifs and buts about it.”
That the administration has done a fairly good job in saving lives and ensuring that we do not get overwhelmed by the pandemic is beyond question. Notwithstanding the harangues of those who continue to belittle the responses thus far, there is no point starting the blame game at this time.
As we have been saying all along, there will be a time for that. There will be some kind of reckoning somehow. Now is not that time. Instead, the blame throwers should restrain themselves and offer solutions where needed. If there are lapses or gaps they can point these out. Not to undermine and unduly focus on these but to suggest how things can be better addressed. This is an outbreak nobody, not even the WHO, ever expected to be as deadly and seemingly uncontrollable, if we may call it such. In fact, it took sometime before the organization upgraded it to the highest alert level of an international public health emergency. A pandemic.
Even the most advanced countries had to scramble to put their own response systems in place. Except for Singapore, Vietnam and possibly, Thailand, the 10 member ASEAN grouping was in the same predicament. Maybe even worse. In our case, we had to scramble and cope with limited resources and a degraded public health system with a fumbling leadership. More than that, we had the unique problem of dealing with the repatriation of tens of thousands of our overseas workers while the world was closing down. Through it all we did manage to work things out and stay afloat up to now. The question is: can we sustain, even enhance, our capability to cope with the continuing threat of this virus spiking out of control. Can we get back our balance and transit into a new and hopefully better organized and livable world.
The answer is: we can if we do it as a united people, ready and willing to do the right things for ourselves, our families and our communities.