"This is terrifying."
I was trying to find the best word to suit the situation both policy makers and implementers find themselves in at this point in the pandemic’s destructive path. We seem to be getting nowhere near to a solution.
To be fair, many other countries find themselves in the same rut.
Last week, I was with the new resident representative from Australia, a rich country with plenty of resources and a much smaller population to have to worry about. They had hoped to inoculate every adult in Australia by the end of 2021 and achieve herd immunity.
They had managed the control of the infections thus far, by a series of stringent lockdowns particularly in highly populous Melbourne where the number of infections were precariously large.
But problems arose with the restriction on the export of vaccines from partner countries like India, where the resurgence of infections has been terrible. And of course there are questions about the side effects of AstraZeneca, including blood clots among some who had been vaccinated. And so they ordered another 20 million doses from Pfizer-BioNtech, but these are not expected to arrive until the end of this year. Thus, their Prime Minister announced that the goal of herd immunity by end-2021 is not achievable.
Going through the reported developments in our fight against the pandemic, and getting information from some of the key figures involved in the battle, perhaps the right word to describe what is happening among our officials is quandary. Our policy makers and those tasked to implement those policies cannot seem to do anything right.
Truth is, from the harsh prism of public opinion in a time of severe crisis, people tend to complain a lot, and nothing our officials in charge are doing are deemed satisfactory enough.
We look back at how our health officials were not prepared for the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic, and we understand that many other countries were not prepared. We know that our health infrastructure is wanting, and for the longest time, government has not given public health the importance it deserves.
We realize that government officials acted late in closing our borders to visitors from China where the virus first developed, but then again, there is no sense flogging that matter. Blame is easy to ascribe, but accountability can come later. For now, it is a question of survival – a question of what can be done, and fast.
We are pained to learn that we were late in ordering the vaccines. Again whether our officials dropped the ball or not, or were prescient enough or whether they twiddle-dee’d and tweedled-dummed earlier is now of little moment. The reality stares us in the face, and even as we decry the “vaccine nationalism” that made rich country policy-makers jump the gun on ordering more than enough vaccines, what can we do about it, other than cry about the unfairness?
Quandary is also what comes to mind when we describe the options that our leaders are confronted with: Lockdowns versus the deleterious effects such lockdowns impose upon the economy, upon jobs and livelihood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the two-week ECQ that was government imposed when the numbers surged to tens of thousands daily. And quandary was demonstrated when two weeks after, the only other option was to relax a bit to an MECQ.
The economy could not afford a prolonged lockdown. Millions have already suffered loss of jobs and livelihood in the year that passed since we first went into lockdown in the middle of March 2020. And more significantly, as far as our policy-makers are concerned, is that government could no longer afford to give more dole-outs, more “ayuda” to stave off the hunger of the jobless in NCR-Plus bubble. Our resources are over-stretched.
We now await what happens as far as the number of infections go --- did the ECQ arrest the surge, or has there been little, if any, positive impact? Will the relaxation to MECQ in the capital region plus bubble not increase the numbers? We do not know, as we wait with anxiety.
The information I got from reliable sources is that the contagion has re-surged and gone beyond the area described as NCR plus bubble. And that is terrifying.
I watched the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing last Monday on the issue of the lowering of tariffs and the quantity of pork imports allowed vis-a-vis the plight of our hog raisers, majority of whom are small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs.
Some senators were quick at blaming the officials of the Department of Agriculture, and condemned the “demise” of the local hog industry, their hearts “bleeding” for the victims of what they consider wrong government policy.
But quandary is again what confronted not only our agriculture officials, but likewise our economic managers, who together advised the President to issue the executive order that lowered tariffs while Congress was in recess.
Policy-makers have to make difficult choices in times of crisis, or to avert further crisis, especially insofar as basic needs, of which food is paramount, are concerned. It is not easy making a choice between the plight of consumers versus agricultural producers, whatever the product.
I maintain my belief in the integrity of Secretary Dar and cannot accept the accusation that the DA over-estimated the numbers that we need to import to stave off the shortage brought about by the ASF infestation.
There will always be winners and losers whenever difficult policy decisions have to be made. Blame can be put at our wanton neglect of the necessary precautions that should have been put in place to protect our hog industry from ASF infection. But when that infestation began, Sec. Dar was not yet the man in charge of our agricultural policies and their implementation.
When Taiwan informed us that ASF had already invaded the Philippines, Dar was just about a week in office. It was his baptism of fire, and he had to act despite a bureaucratic support staff that he inherited. It was not easy.