Viral politics
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Our politicians are clearly worse than the coronavirus. Some of them have been pushing their privileges at the expense of the truly sick. Now, they want even more powers for themselves.

The test results backlog at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) is one week or more. People could be walking around not knowing they have the virus.

People actually die before knowing their results. And because the number of kits available is small, the mildly symptomatic are asked to stay at home and self-quarantine.

Yet, technicians processing the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 tests at RITM were pressured to prioritize tests of some 34 government officials, mostly without symptoms, over those who need the tests more like patients and frontline health workers.

Two RITM staffers told the Inquirer the COVID-19 test results of Dr. Israel Bactol, a 34-year-old cardiologist, was delayed by four days because government officials “ordered” the results of their respective tests to be ready within 24 hours. Bactol died on March 21.

One of the staffers said the government officials “sent their (swab) samples to RITM with instructions to prioritize them despite standing DOH guidelines stating that one should not be tested if he or she is asymptomatic.”

“Of course, the ideal setup is for all suspected cases is to be tested,” an unnamed doctor who was isolated for being both exposed to the virus and symptomatic told ANCX. “Pero dahil nga kulang, it’s best to allocate it according to the algorithm.”

“I was a Person Under Investigation, and it took four days for my results to come out. Nauna pa sila. There are health workers who have been intubated, and whose clinical statuses have been growing more severe. We still haven’t confirmed if they have COVID-19.”

This was the cost of having our asymptomatic politicians tested: Those tests were paid for not just with taxpayer money, but also with human suffering.

Sec. Francisco Duque, playing politics as usual, told RITM that it is alright to test the politicians since new test kits were due to arrive. He then fired the RITM head who was pushing back on the VIPs breaking test priority protocol.

Duque tried to backtrack on his relief order because there was a big backlash. My post on the matter got the largest likes and repost of anything I have posted recently… in the thousands.

One of my friends commented: “COVID-19 is a tragedy. But what Filipino politicians are doing - demanding that they and their families be tested first, despite knowing that there is a shortage of test kits - is a scandal. NO, IT IS A CRIME!

“What makes their lives more important than those of ordinary Filipinos? They are useless to the Filipinos.

“Government officials have ceased being public servants a long time ago…” There has to be a way of genetically engineering that virus to attack only our politicians.

Managing an epidemic is tricky enough. But our leaders, including our Health Secretary, are placing political interest ahead of the nation’s.

Remember how Sec. Duque and President Duterte kept on saying they didn’t want to offend China by imposing a ban on the entry of Chinese visitors after Wuhan already imposed a lockdown due to the virus. Even Russia, a staunch China ally has already closed its border with China.

As a result, tourists even from Hubei province (where Wuhan is) were still able to board charter flights to Boracay. POGO workers were still able to enter via special treatment of corrupt Immigration people via NAIA. Easy to assume some of those were carriers of the virus responsible for the problem we have now.

Yet, the servile devotion of Duterte to his Chinese overlords has yet to be rewarded. Rep.  Joey Salceda wondered on Facebook: “Akala ko mahal tayo ng China…”

With much fanfare, the Chinese ambassador turned over to Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. last Saturday, some 100,000 test kits for COVID-19, the second batch of donations from the Chinese government.

As the government run Philippine News Agency reported it: “In a ceremony held in Parañaque City, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian turned over the test kits, along with at least 10,000 pieces of n95 masks, 100,000 surgical masks, and 10,000 personal protective equipment to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and representatives of the Department of Health (DOH).”

On the other side of the globe, Czech media said the plane from China carried five million face masks, two million respirators and other medical material weighing 106 tons in total, while a China Eastern plane that landed in Prague an hour later carried seven million face masks.

Another China Eastern plane with more than a million face masks had landed in Prague on Friday. The Czech Republic is an EU member with 10.7 million people. We have over 100 million. They got millions, ours was just in the thousands.

Duterte should feel slighted, but he isn’t. His attitude towards China is “beggars can’t be choosers.” Bow na lang ng bow.

Hopefully the powers Duterte will get from Congress will be exercised judiciously.

They should not use it to bully private sector business. Every effort must be made to elicit cooperation rather than force it. The virus will not be here forever, but sooner or later, government will need everyone to rebuild our economy.

Taking over private utilities or hospitals will leave lasting ill-feelings that will make rehabilitating the economy more difficult.

Finally, it is hoped that the experiences and the lessons inflicted upon us by this coronavirus will linger in the minds of our voters in 2022. Next time, vote wisely.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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