Fine-Tuning the Lockdown Measures
Covid-19 is an evolving pandemic that demands a periodic calibration of responses. The current quarantine rules should not be set in stone because they can be fine-tuned to address a specific concern and effectively bring down the country’s infection rate.
The current granular lockdowns being enforced in certain parts, streets or households in Metro Manila, for instance, could be modified or adjusted at once to allow uninfected or vaccinated neighbors to go out and participate in the economic recovery. There is no sensible reason to confine or lockdown an individual or worker residing near an infected cluster if he is healthy or already vaccinated.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, we should focus our attention to beefing up our healthcare system and expanding the testing of the population to contain the spread of the virus and heal the sick. The enhanced community quarantine imposed in Metro Manila and nearby provinces did not stem the rise of Covid cases. The strict lockdown measure, instead, shut down the economy and did not provide the cure or the relief to alleviate virus cases. Thus, there is no reason to impose the ECQ again simply because the health crisis requires a medical remedy, not a military-style lockdown response.
We can reopen the economy safely, of course, as we vaccinate more people. But pending the achievement of herd immunity, like what has been done in Singapore or even Chile, we should take care of our health sector.
What the nation needs are more bed facilities and healthcare workers, increased isolation centers and widespread testing for the unvaccinated. Reports of Covid-19 infected patients being transported from the provinces to Metro Manila hospitals due to lack of facilities there are disheartening.
Perhaps, we can also re-allocate part of our Covid funds to free mass testing to accurately identify the infected ones. The poorer population cannot afford the price of a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test if they go to a private hospital given the budgetary limits of a public health center. The maximum price charged by private laboratories is P5,000 and P3,800 for public laboratories. The poor and those with meager income can infect more people and spread the virus if they skip the costly RT-PCR test.
But I am pleased to learn that the government is moving to increase the healthcare budget for next year. President Rodrigo Duterte has promised to look for funds that will enable the government to hire more healthcare workers, given the stressed condition of our medical frontliners. This same manpower lack in hospitals and inadequate medical facilities have triggered the strict lockdown measures that impaired economic activities.
The substantial reopening of the economy, meanwhile, should receive equal priority from our authorities. We cannot afford to shut down the economy anymore and always link its fate to the number of Covid cases. The World Health Organization has already considered Covid-19 endemic, or one that will live with us even in a herd immunity scenario.
As I’ve written in this column before, the Philippines must live with the virus from hereon. We can reopen the economy and fight the virus at the same time, as long as the people comply strictly with the health protocols of wearing a face mask and shield, social distancing and frequent washing of hands.
The granular or isolated lockdowns being enforced in certain households or streets, and the return to the modified general community quarantine (Alert Level 4) are a step in the right direction. However, certain restrictions should be fine-tuned to enable more Filipinos to rejoin the labor force.
Alert Level 4 allows the reopening of dine-in restaurants and personal care services such as barbershops, beauty salons and nail spas in the capital region at 30 percent capacity for outdoor and 10 percent indoor. Authorities should raise the capacity of these establishments to encourage more people to join the economic recovery process. Business establishments will be hard-pressed to operate under these conditions. Very few of these outlets will break even, much less hire more people.
The current GCQ with Alert Level 4 in Metro Manila is on an experimental basis. But our authorities just the same should be quick to react and calibrate some features of the experimental lockdown mode.