"Government’s ways of dealing with the pandemic do not inspire hope and optimism."
As what has been floating for days, President Rodrigo Duterte announced on Thursday night that Metro Manila, and Regions 2, 3, and 4-A will be placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) starting June 1 to 15.
Honestly, I am ambivalent about this development especially with the recent reports from the Department of Health (DOH) about the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases: 539 on Thursday, May 28; 380 on Wednesday, and 350 last Tuesday. Of the most recent 539 cases, 330 were from the National Capital Region (NCR). The country now has a total of 15,588 cases, with 3,598 recoveries and 921 deaths.
The DOH has since issued a statement explaining the big jump in the number of cases that in part says, “…The cases that were reported over the last few days reflect tests that were conducted days and weeks prior. The reporting lag is due to delays in submission of results by laboratories and the manual verification process to ensure that each case is a unique individual… We expect the numbers to continue to rise over the coming days as we continue catching up with the backlog in validation and as we conduct more tests nationwide…”
In other words, what the DOH is saying is we really do not have the full picture in relation with the pandemic. For many weeks, doctors have been saying that the numbers being reported by the DOH are much less than the real numbers, that there may be two to three weeks of backlog. This fact is only belatedly admitted by the DOH.
For the sake of roughly estimating the actual number of cases, let us take the average of the last three days which is 423. If doctors are correct that the backlog is at least two weeks, then there should be at least 7,191 MORE cases which will bring the total number to 22,779 cases at the very least.
Noting our weak testing, and dismal contact tracing capacities, as well as reports in social media of deaths not listed as caused by COVID-19 because results of tests were delayed for weeks, it is very possible that many more cases are unrecorded. We really do not know if the curve is being flattened.
And Metro Manila is now shifting to GCQ.
Truth be told, the country has the longest COVID-19-caused quarantine in the world, even longer than Wuhan, China’s 76-day lockdown. While most countries have lifted their quarantine, we, residents of Metro Manila remain restricted. I very well understand the need to reopen the economy. As it is, millions of workers are already poised to lose their jobs. If businesses continue to lose, more and more will end up jobless.
Micro and small enterprises are unable to operate their livelihood activities primarily because there is no public transportation which is essential in their operations. Workers in the informal economy have been immobilized and they desperately need to earn some.
Thus, we really need for economic activities to resume (assuming people still have some capital to use), we need workers to be able to earn a living, and we need businesses to resume operations.
What makes me ambivalent about GCQ is our readiness.
Sadly, government’s ways of dealing with the pandemic do not inspire hope and optimism. The long lockdown period is the time not only to address the pandemic and prevent it from spreading, rather, it is also the time to make plans and prepare for the eventual lifting of all restrictions. We all knew that the lockdown cannot be permanent.
The way the DOH is handling the crisis leaves much to be desired. Government guidelines are not communicated effectively and in a timely manner. Many times, these guidelines are interpreted differently by different enforcers. Also, there are times when the guidelines are violated outright by the very people who are tasked to implement them.
Up to the present, the people have yet to know if government has a comprehensive plan for the complete lifting of the quarantine. It is as if this pandemic is dealt with on a day-to-day basis. By this time, the country should already have a recovery plan that will enable our people to resume their lives, students to continue their studies, and offices and establishments to operate while being protected from another COVID-19 outbreak. I wish that this is already being done by government.
As Metro Manila and adjacent regions enter GCQ while COVID-19 continues to infect hundreds, there is an urgent need for people to be very vigilant. Unlike in other countries where enhanced prevention, detection, and protective measures are strictly enforced without infringing on people’s rights both by public and private establishment, we do not see similar measures here.
As workers begin to troop back to work with only very limited modes of transportation available, we can expect hordes of people to again be on the streets. This was the scenario we witnessed before. Malls are also scheduled to reopen and we know very well how much people miss going to the malls. In both cases, physical distancing may be hard to enforce. Hopefully, the guidelines will be strictly implemented and followed by people.
Also, our health system must be ready. Our hospitals and front liners need to be properly and adequately equipped to deal with new COVID-19 cases. We need to prevent BUT be ready for another surge which experts say is not far-fetched.
Hopefully, Metro Manila is ready to go GCQ now.
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