"Political leadership, active citizenship."
Starting midnight of March 15, 2020, the whole of Metro Manila was placed on a 30-day “community quarantine.” Travel into and out of the metro will be restricted; public transportation has been suspended. Military and police personnel have been called to enforce these restrictions, in an attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Administration critics have been quick to raise concerns over the “drastic” precautionary measures imposed by the government, calling them an overkill.
But, if we were to draw parallels from China, South Korea and even Italy—a “community quarantine” could be our best, perhaps, our only hope in preventing a full-blown pandemic in the Philippines.
COVID-19 has proved to be a highly infectious virus, despite having a low morbidity rate. In fact, based on epidemiological trends in China, 80 percent of patients are either asymptomatic or exhibit mild symptoms. Of the remaining 20 percent, 15 percent are moderate cases that would require medical attention, and only the remaining 4 percent critical cases would have to be placed on intensive care. Around 0.6 percent to 1 percent mortality rate is expected.
But that would be 1 percent too many.
If we fail to contain the virus, the mortality rate could end up even higher.
DOH statistics show that we only have 89,000 hospital beds in the country, with less than 1,000 ICU bed units, not to mention the fact that majority of our hospitals do not have the equipment nor the medical personnel needed for the treatment of COVID.
For example, Eastern Visayas has a population of more than four million. If a quarter of them gets infected with COVID-19, that would mean one million individuals. At 15 percent, 150,000 would require hospital care, while 4 percent or an estimate of 40,000 have to be placed in an intensive care unit.
Sadly, the total hospital bed capacity in the region is only a little more than two thousand beds, with only no more than a hundred ICU beds.
Not to mention that we have a limited number of COVID testing kits and access to protective gear for our medical frontline personnel has become increasingly difficult.
The Department of Health has provided a more conservative forecast of a 3 percent attack rate, that is around 90,000 positive cases out of three million individuals projected to be susceptible to COVID-19. Out of these positive cases, 80 percent or around 73,000 are estimated to exhibit mild symptoms, 14 percent or 12,000 cases are projected to be severe and would require hospital care while 5 percent or 4,544 would be critically ill and would need to be in an intensive care unit. Based on this model, if unbated, this COVID-19 crisis could result in around 2,700 deaths. But even if reduced to lowest terms, it appears that a COVID-19 pandemic will still be beyond the current capacity of our healthcare system.
The risk of widespread contagion is expected continue on for at least two to six months.
China had their first case December of last year. It was only this month that they began to reverse the trend. It took more than three months for South Korea to do the same. Even the diminutive special economic region of Macao took more than two months to put the pandemic under control.
Unfortunately for us, China, South Korea and Macao have the access to medical equipment, personnel and resources that we do not have. Our health system simply does not have a proportionate coping capacity.
Even the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel working on the frontlines and risking their own lives and safety are asking for more personal protective equipment and face masks.
To date, there is no cure nor vaccine available for COVID-19. The good news is that COVID-19 is self-limiting. The virus will eventually die within a determined period of time.
This means, community solidarity and cooperating with the authorities, especially in relation with the “community quarantine” in Metro Manila is our best chance of surviving this pandemic.
Even if that means calling on the military and police to enforce the “community quarantine”—as many countries have already done.
This is the best time to set aside politics.
Critics often point out that in Singapore and South Korea, the government was able to address COVID-19 without the need for drastic measures such as a lockdown.
But Singapore is an island nation of a population of around eight million. The population of Metro Manila, on the other hand, is around eleven million, many of them living in cramped conditions that make social distancing almost impossible. South Korea, on the other hand, has provided free COVID testing for more than 250,000 individuals; our capacity pales in comparison.
These countries’ citizens are disciplined and responsible enough to heed these precautions, and to trustingly cooperate to the fullest with their authorities.
It is therefore not just a question of political leadership, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic absolutely, more importantly, requires active citizenship.
The greater part of the solution depends on us. We should cooperate closely with the government and observe all precautionary measures in place—even it means hard choices and inconveniences.
Lastly, let us have more faith—in God, in ourselves, in others and in our government. Everyone is doing their best to weather this crisis—but you too must play your part.
It is not true that we are helpless and powerless in the face of this COVID-19 crisis. The stronger power is in our hands. Our strength is in working together as one.