The next phase of the COVID-19 battle
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2020 - 12:00am

These past few weeks have seemed like a bad dream – a waking nightmare for many actually and one that is still ongoing. We have been given an extension on the enhanced community quarantine, but realistically I don’t think there is anyone who believes that this nightmare is going to suddenly resolve itself in the next two weeks. We could be looking at this quarantine lasting well into May, and perhaps even up to June. I hope not, but without us aggressively committing to the other steps in the process, this is the harsh reality.

I honestly believe our response to this global pandemic has been as good as we could have hoped for considering the situation we found ourselves in. If you look around the world, we fall somewhere in the middle when it comes to our reaction. We could have been more organized like the Japanese, and we could have been more proactive like in Taiwan, but overall we addressed the situation faster than a lot of Western countries and we took the precautions we could with what we had.

Granted things were messy when the quarantine first began. It was like a ping pong match finding out what was allowed, what was not, who was in charge, how things were going to work. But overall, everyone slowly (very slowly) settled into the new normal of how things were going to be for the foreseeable future.

It’s expected that things didn’t iron themselves out right away. After all, this is unprecedented territory. Unlike disaster relief from typhoons or even volcano eruptions, what we faced with COVID-19 was unlike anything we have ever had to deal with in the past. Understandably, there was a lot of groping in the dark that followed. We had never had to prepare for a problem of this magnitude and there was no full-scale foolproof plan available to us. We had to move forward as best we could and work with what we had.

But now that the proverbial dust of the first 30 days has settled, we need to be more clear-headed. We have to look forward and realize that 30 days at home was never going to solve the problem. Neither is an additional two more weeks. If we want to make a difference, we have to look at the next important steps in the battle and take them. Only then will we see an impact in our efforts and the hopes of returning to a semblance of normal life.

While a vaccine and cure are the best ways to defeat this enemy, which we don’t have available yet, we need to do the next most important steps. Properly identify those at risk (and those putting others at risk) and segregate them until they are safe. If we don’t, we are simply riding a merry-go-around waiting for the next person to get infected.

It’s been said before, and it’s still the best step for us, to implement moving forward – mass testing at the community level needs to be implemented for our health experts to be able to gauge just what we are dealing with and properly segregate, monitor, and treat those who are ill. This needs to be done at the community level to help alleviate the rise in infected patients and the corresponding effect this has on the medical community and our frontliners in general.

Thoughts and prayers are no longer enough. At this point, action is required. We need our policymakers, LGUs, and even the private sector that wants to help, to focus on the steps that will make a difference. Distributing relief goods and food to those most in need must continue if they are to survive, but if we are all to survive we need to bring the battle to where it is being lost – to the barangays and communities.

We have to find tests that are widely available and distribute them at the community level. There, mass testing needs to be thoroughly done and PUIs and the like need to be properly quarantined and treated so that they stop infecting others in the community. This requires temporary housing or shelter for those who may be infected. This can come in the form of hotels, schools, or even churches. It may not be comfortable or luxurious, but it is necessary. We’ll never be rid of the virus or as close to rid of it as possible if people who are infected and worse, asymptomatic, are freely roaming around.

Also, we have to properly care for the medical workers we have left. If we find a cure or treatment, but no one is available to administer it, then what was it all for? It’s not just about protecting doctors and nurses, but also others in the healthcare industry. We need every last expert and every last healthcare provider we have. This means ensuring they have adequate personal protective equipment and the physical and mental capacity to do their jobs – proper transportation or temporary housing.

If we don’t start focusing on these steps, we’re never going to get of the phase we are currently in. Sure the quarantine may be lifted, but without the proper plan in place, all that will happen is that we will go out into the world, cases will spike, and we’ll be sent home once again. We need to take concrete steps to prevent that from happening.

I believe that’s the best way we can begin to help and salvage our economy. Many are asking for the quarantine to be lifted because, in the long run, the economic ruin will kill more than the disease will. I understand that side as well. Workers are suffering daily and SMEs are left wondering if they will survive. We can’t go on like this forever. Alongside any stimulus help or economic cushioning, we need to ensure that we are moving forward in our battle against the coronavirus instead of simply staying still.

The first part of the battle is done, we need to move into the next phase now if we want to survive. Take care of our people and each other, provide food and relief, roll out economic stimulus and help to workers and SMEs, and most importantly – mass test and properly segregate individuals. This is what we need to do to step forward. I hope that’s what these next couple of weeks will be about.

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