Barangays as the first line of defense

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2020 - 12:00am

As Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan slide back to a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) mode from today until Aug. 18, the more important issues that remain outstanding must be immediately addressed. Let’s not waste the next 15 days.

First, people who are sick need to be isolated. More importantly, those who have been in contact with those who have tested positive, or are suspected of having the virus should self-isolate.

Barangay officials and workers are our first line of defense. For them to be empowered, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) must do a better job. We must remember that the real problem is the continuing spread of the virus – and tired doctors and hospital staff asking for a “pause” are just the result.

The reality is that there will be no “pause” in the virus spread if the most basic unit of governance in MECQ areas will not be able enforce the granular community lockdowns where infection needs to be verified, documented, and halted.

Policing the virus

The IATF must work closely with cities and munipalities to strengthen barangays to keep up with the need to diligently work. With the lifting of ECQ strictures last July 1 to GCQ, most barangays slackened their watch, even as ambulances with blaring sirens zigzagged their streets.

Barangays must be made to understand that even in GCQ, the virus threat is still very much alive and just waiting for any sign of letting up on health safety protocols – and this is not just encompass basic rules on social distancing, mask wearing, and hand sanitizing.

Even under GCQ, the “new normal” means that people should stay away from loitering in public places, observe work-at-home arrangements whenever possible, and for many of those that need to go out to work, explore using bicycles if employers cannot provide shuttles.

Even under GCQ, we must be able to police the virus and prevent it from reaching the health system frontlines.

Working issues

Since a good number of businesses are still allowed to operate under MECQ, companies must be encouraged to provide incentives for their essential workers to acquire motorcycles, scooters or non-motorized bikes to support personal mobility.

We need to decongest the mass public transportation system like buses and trains, where contained air is shared by users, and therefore a potential risk for passing on the virus from one person to another. Our understanding of the virus is getting better, which should allow us to adopt new and better health safety standards.

The same goes for work spaces even when operating at 50 percent capacity, especially in manufacturing and office environments where workers share the same breathing spaces, and mixing and mingling is almost next to impossible.

Micro, small, medium-sized companies are now feeling the pinch with slower business that has resulted in much lower revenues, while almost keeping the same level of operating cost. Retrenchments have already started, but this will not save many of these affected businesses unless a mitigation program is adopted by Congress.

Migration protocols

As the country’s economic hubs enter the sixth month of quarantine, lost jobs are forcing people to reconsider moving away from the city and whiling away the crisis in their native provinces where there could be a better chance of survival.

Migration protocols must be ready. Local governments outside quarantine zones must have reasonable standard operating procedures to ensure that the virus does not move into their areas, but must not discriminate on those that wish to move out of the cities.

More importantly, the IATF, together with appropriate government agencies like the agriculture and trade departments, must come up with a plan on how to encourage new forms of livelihood for affected workers and even small business owners.

Hollow victory

We must bear in mind that the reversal to MECQ is not a win for the doctors and health workers who had strongly asked for this “pause.” In fact, even if a total lockdown to ECQ had been granted, the virus has spread far too widely. Focus on containment must intensify.

It will be a hollow vicatory for our fatigued health system, even with all the new benefits granted them, if everyone in government will not do their part. Keeping health workers safe is a priority. Having hospitals as breeding ground for the virus spread is unacceptable.

Our medical practitioners should also keep abreast with new learnings from other specialists in treating affected patients. Instituting shorter and more effective treatments is the primary responsibility of the Department of Health.

Let us brace ourself for the fight, and never forget that we are in for a long haul with this dreaded virus. We cannot rest easy until an effective vaccine is found and everyone who is vulnerable gets it.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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