“Out of the mouths of babes”
With the arrival in the country of the highly contagious UK and South Africa variants of COVID-19 as well as the discovery of a homegrown variant, cases have surged, resulting in the record for most cases recorded in a day being broken.
The alarming increase in the number of cases led the government to impose what is no less than a lockdown of sorts over several critical risk regions, creating the “NCR Plus” bubble and restricting business activity and movement within the area.
Once again, minors and the elderly are prohibited from leaving their homes. People are encouraged to stay home and minimize contact with others. The operation of certain types of businesses such as gyms and spas have been suspended.
It’s no surprise then that many sectors are calling for better approaches to this latest COVID crisis, among them the youth. I recently received a letter from a group of University of Santo Tomas senior high school students listing some suggestions that they hope will reach the attention of “those in power, to implement better policies in order to help control the number of positive cases in the country.”
Gwen Alcasid, Kathleen Araquil, Nisha Balingue, Maxeene Canillas, Jazzmine Creus, Kristian de la Cruz, Camilla Docena, Mikaela Geneblazo, and John Alan Tan titled their white paper “Strict Travel Restrictions: A Crucial Step in Controlling COVID-19 Spread.”
Their main point is that government’s easing of travel restrictions has resulted in the proliferation of cases. While this was done with the aim of boosting the sagging economy, the result is that the number of cases spiked.
According to the group, “With the past few months’ strict implementations of travel guidelines with the RT-PCR test imposed as mandatory, the Philippines was able to attain an average of daily COVID-19 cases to drop by 25 percent, reporting less than 2,500 daily cases since November.
“However, with the country being petulant regarding the situation, it [the government] has decided to be permissive about the domestic travel guidelines, with the removal of the negative RT-PCR test requirements [for] domestic travels.
“With this recent modification, the desire to travel domestically has risen in both tourists and locals alike for there are less travel requirements and restrictions. Hence, these actions resulted in detrimental repercussions, which, as aforementioned, inflicted a recent spike of identified positive cases.”
To bolster their argument, they added: “Just this March 22, 2021, the statistics reached the highest recorded COVID-19 cases in a day, which was 8,019 new COVID-19 infections.”
The students clarified that “this spike can be attributed to many factors; however, with the recent modifications in the country’s response to the spread of the virus, this may as well be considered as one possible reason behind it.”
They argued that removing testing as a prerequisite for travel was a wrong move: “It can therefore be said that it is an erroneous and negligent act from the government to deliberately make the requirement of the negative RT-PCR test non-mandatory.”
Their proposed strategy is simple and straightforward: “nationwide mass testing and the return of the mandatory requirement of a negative RT-PCR test result before traveling domestically.”
Specifically, they recommend that the government:
“Implement stricter travel restrictions and policies, including the requirement of the negative RT-PCR tests and valid travel documents, wherein only Filipinos who have essential reasons such as work and matters of emergency shall be granted a travel pass;
“Improve efforts in providing accessible and convenient swab testing through increasing the country’s supply and access, hence conducting a more efficient nationwide mass testing; and,
“Provide important and updated information about travel guidelines through efficiently educating the public about the importance of swab testing when traveling, especially during a pandemic, as well as the respective consequences of neglecting it.”
Simple strategies indeed, but they were effective when they were implemented last year when the pandemic hit. I agree that it is foolish to ease in-country travel restrictions when cases involving what the Department of Health calls “variants of concern” are spreading precisely because of the movement of humans from one place to another.
Now, in the face of the surge, the government has imposed travel restrictions on the residents of NCR Plus – they may travel within the bubble, but not outside it, nor may outsiders enter. Isn’t this what these students just said?
Out of the mouths of babes… when even young people can see what needs to be done, what does that say about our leaders, who are implementing “trial by error” and “matira matibay” approaches in responding to the biggest challenge of our time?
PhilHealth pa rin. Hellow po. // FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO