The irony was not lost on us that the Palace spokesman who declared the administration’s response to COVID-19 as “excellent” has himself fallen victim to the disease.
The fact is, with new cases hitting more than 4,000 in a day in the last five days, and breaching 5,000 on March 16, and a second wave poised to overtake the peak of the first, the official response to the pandemic has fallen considerably short of “excellent.”
What is worse is that health officials seem to have learned very little from our experience with the first wave, during which we endured one of the world’s longest and most stringent lockdowns. None of this stopped us from becoming the hardest hit country in the Western Pacific, with 626,893 cases and 12,837 deaths as of March 16, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Faced with a sharp rise in new infections, the administration’s immediate response is a military one: Reimpose a curfew, deploy police commandos to man checkpoints round the National Capital Region where the spread is greatest, and bar public displays of affection.
In the meantime, the national vaccination program has managed to inoculate only 12 percent of its priority target to protect some 1.76 million medical workers in the first two weeks, and less than 1 percent of the 24.7 million Filipinos targeted for inoculation under Priority Group A-1. At this pace, herd immunity and vaccines for all adults who want them seem like pie in the sky.
An assessment of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies in December that social distancing and lockdown policies are not “well nuanced.”
“Contact tracing protocols have not improved as much as testing and treating. Leadership is lacking, with several members of the Inter-Agency Task Force only focusing on controlling people movement. There are also massive communication gaps in policy: some government and police officials went unpunished for violating protocols, while several people were arrested for not wearing masks,” the assessment published in the East Asia Forum said.
“During the long lockdown, public transport was curtailed and intercity travel prevented, disrupting domestic value chains. Even after the lockdown began to ease in June, excessive permits were required and rules were not uniformly implemented across locales,” the PIDS analysis said.
Before the recent spike in new cases, members of the President’s Cabinet pushed to lift restrictions to bolster the economy that had been battered by the pandemic and the long lockdown. Now those hopes seem distant again. As the PIDS analysis notes, “there is unanimous agreement that a successful economic recovery hinges on the proper management of the health crisis, which the government is still struggling to achieve.” And that, we are compelled to say, isn’t all that excellent.