And around and around we go

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2020 - 12:00am

It has been over six months since we entered the first stage of community quarantine in the country. Since then we have been on a merry-go-round of quarantine variations in the attempt to help curb the COVID-19 spread in the country. From enhanced to modified to general, each level is designed to keep people indoors and prevent the spread of the virus.

While in the beginning, despite the severe impact it had on the economy and the people, everyone followed the ECQ protocols carefully. People stayed indoors as much as possible. Only those deemed essential went to work – the frontliners as it were – including hospital workers, grocery workers, pharmacy workers, garbage workers, security forces, and so on.

Numbers rose, if somewhat slowly at the time, and everyone was very careful to not catch or spread the virus. In the beginning everyone was afraid and worried, but did their part in the hopes of “flattening the curve”. The government granted the President emergency powers to help him deal with the pandemic and as apprehensive as some people were, we simply acquiesced because the future remained bleak and uncertain due to COVID-19.

But then, as time passed and the government was not able to put forth a clear path for moving forward, we began to question how we were ever going to progress. No mass testing, no proper tracing, no separating. How would we ever make a dent in the coronavirus cases in the country? We lamented our state even further when Asian neighbors began slowly emerging and returning to careful “new normal” because they tested aggressively and got their numbers down early on. We wondered if the Philippines would ever do the same?

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case. Six months later and all we have done is to keep changing our quarantine status. When we shifted from enhanced to general community quarantine and people were able to move around more freely (with masks and social distancing) people went back to work, to the malls as needed, and saw loved ones (from afar). However, this influx of activity without the corresponding mass testing and the like had the result almost everyone predicted – numbers spiked. Cases reached the thousands per day and hospitals began getting flooded once again.

This isn’t some far-fetched horror story – I’ve witnessed it. Hospital emergency rooms became so overwhelmed again that other cases had to be turned away. I know a stroke victim who was not accommodated by almost four hospitals they visited. It ended up taking her family almost eight hours to find her a hospital, and while she was eventually admitted, she didn’t make it. I would consider that a COVID-related death although a brain hemorrhage was how she died.

So, due to mounting pressure from the public and a desperate plea from the medical community, the government moved us back to enhanced community quarantine for two weeks to “help give the medical frontliners the much-needed respite” from the influx of cases and hopefully alleviate the plight of several hospitals in the metro. The two-week MECQ helped lower cases, but then it only lasted for two weeks.

We’ve come out of MECQ and back to GCQ and people are mobile again. I understand that people have to work. I truly comprehend how bad our economy has been hit and how much our people need to earn to be able to survive. But without a proper plan in place, all we will ever keep doing is going around and around in circles. We’ll be out trying to cope with a “new normal” and then people will begin to get lax and cases will spike again.

Our government’s rallying cry of “waiting for a vaccine” won’t keep cutting it, and if that and quarantine are all the current COVID-19 action plan consists of – then we definitely have varying degrees of quarantine in our future. We will continue to go around and around until our allies in Russia or China get their vaccine out in the market – which according to them will be by the end of the year despite reservations the World Health Organization has on the efficacy and safety of a vaccine out that early (other pharmaceuticals have pegged their vaccine release to be early to next year at best).

I’m honestly wondering how we can safely move forward and establish a “safe” way to live with the virus. Using face shields is just a band-aid solution. We need better protocols moving forward. Mass testing is the best way to help isolate cases and prevent the spread, but for some reason, we don’t seem to have that in the action plan. Hopefully, the President makes more changes in the months ahead. After all, despite saying that things have “improved,” he understands that the problem is far from over and has extended emergency pandemic powers for another year through the signing of Proclamation No. 1021 until Sept. 12, 2021.

This proclamation reads like a staggering wishlist bolstered by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act – the second phase of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. Curiously, why would all of this be required if we were going to be back to normal by December as promised?

In either case, the highlights of these two bills include providing stronger measures to ensure peace and order, emergency aid, distribution of emergency funds to local communities in need, social amelioration program, help to hasten recovery of business sectors heavily impacted, better equip the health sector, stronger contact tracing, bigger stimulus budget, and much more. Sounds good on paper, as usual, but hopefully we can see the action as well.

For comments questions, please feel free to email the author at: tonyk219@yahoo.com

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