DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2021 - 12:00am

Our government tried very hard to avoid calling the new measures they ordered a lockdown. I don’t blame them. Lockdown has such a negative connotation to the economy and to the people.

But calling it by any other name doesn’t make things better. Honesty might make people know we are in a crisis and they should act accordingly. Last Saturday, they finally had to call a lockdown or ECQ because the rise in COVID cases has overwhelmed NCR hospitals.

It formalized the obvious. The bubble covering Metro Manila and adjoining provinces is a lockdown by another name. Any pretension of keeping the economy humming is lost because workers cannot get to work with limited public transport.

Limiting the number of arriving passengers at NAIA to 1,500 a day is a lockdown too. That is made obvious by allowing some flights with OFWs to land in Clark and Cebu.

Some think the Duterte administration avoided calling this a lockdown because there is no more money for “ayuda” to the marginalized Filipinos. They will go hungry. They can only hope Bong Go will give them sneakers with his name on it.

The economy is already suffering from rising inflation due to high food prices and the rising cost of crude oil. Now our economy’s recovery is screwed with this virus upsurge and new lockdown.

According to the World Bank, the Philippines “has been less successful in the region in transitioning away from shutdowns to a more efficient containment strategy.”

But there are things government must do to help our companies and industries tread water while waiting for better times.

For example, we can’t afford to lose our airline industry. They have proven so useful these past months ferrying OFWs, medical supplies and vaccines from foreign shores to home.

I know the Treasury cannot afford to give them any financial assistance that would matter, but they should at least be given some token support to show they are appreciated and we don’t want them to shut down for good.

I was thinking that the local carriers can be exempted from paying any landing and other fees in airports managed by government. That is not much, but every little bit should help keep the morale of the industry up.

The 1,500 arrivals cap should be increased. NAIA should be able to handle a lot more with the proper quarantine and screening procedures.

The problem, from what I have been hearing, is about people skipping quarantine and getting away with it. If that loophole is plugged, NAIA can take in more passengers without endangering public health.

Then too, now is the time for Clark to show it can really be an alternate airport to NAIA. It should be made to take more flights than it is currently handling.

It is also easier to quarantine passengers in Clark, which has more than enough hotel room capacity and more restricted mobility compared to NCR.

The point here is simply, while the lockdown is justified, government must make it as reasonable as it possibly can. A blanket lockdown in aviation shows government is doing something, but it is killing an important industry. There must be a middle ground.

Speaking of lockdowns, there is an emerging science to it. Academics have been crunching numbers and studying what has and has not worked over the past year.

For example, sciencenews.org reports that “new research suggests that focusing on closing or reducing capacity at transmission hot spots while keeping less risky parts of the economy open can curb exponential rises in cases, while minimizing harm to the economy.”

In our situation, we also need experienced and well-trained epidemiologists working at the policy level of our COVID response. Taiwan’s vice president is an epidemiologist, and that helps explain their highly effective response to the pandemic from the start. It is important to have a knowledgeable voice up there. In Singapore, they listen to their experts.

But our President only trusts his MDs (military dati) and the only real MD at IATF is Duque, who is more politician than physician, from what we have seen. If Duterte gets crap advice from Duque, that explains the crap policies we get.

General Galvez cannot offer learned opinion on the virus the way a Dr. Anthony Fauci could. We need someone respectable as a public health professional like Dr. Fauci.

The next big thing on our plate is vaccine logistics. This early, with just a few vaccine shipments to worry about, we have had cases of bad handling that may have compromised vaccine quality.

Some 7,500 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines were returned by officials in Bicol to DOH on suspicion that the temperature during shipment had been compromised.

DOH officials claim it was only “the temperature device that was faulty, but the vaccines remain in usable condition.”

Can they define what usable means for a vaccine sensitive to changes in temperature? Puede pa yan?

If the thermometers are faulty, how would they know if the vaccines were not damaged by improper temperature while on the road? Would those DOH officials allow members of their family to get those vaccines?

That’s not the only case. I also heard from reliable sources (because they are in the industry) that a shipment for two Metro Manila cities arrived with readings in excess of eight degrees. Are the thermometers also faulty?

The best strategy for DOH is to work with the private sector group of Joey Concepcion. At least they are using a highly professional medical logistics group in Zuellig Pharma.

DOH must realize that moving vaccines require the right equipment, the right procedures and the right trained personnel. They cannot hire cold storage or refrigerated vans meant for food. They have to use facilities designed for pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

When will they realize there is science that cannot be ignored in controlling the viral spread in the community? There is also science in handling and getting those vaccines in people’s arms. Duterte’s people cannot just play it by ear and play with people’s lives.



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

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