ECQ alone won’t cut it

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

We are entering another week of ECQ. An extension that should not have caught anyone by surprise. With cases breaching the 15,000 mark over the Holy Week, it’s not shocking that the enhanced quarantine is going on longer than anticipated.

Quite frankly, I don’t understand why we didn’t make it a two-week ECQ to begin with. Most health officials confirm that it requires a minimum of two weeks to make any kind of impact. Instead, we are getting the news of the quarantine “tingi-tingi” and that just makes it harder for both people and businesses to plan their way forward.

I think it’s time we stop this “cross that bridge when we get there” approach. It hasn’t worked thus far. The government now needs to take bold action if they want to address the rising cases of COVID-19. If it requires a one-month ECQ, then they should implement it as early as now along with assistance and ayuda plans. Half-measures like we have been doing don’t seem to make a difference.

Honestly, I don’t pretend to know the 100 percent right way forward. That should be decided on by a panel of experts – government officials, doctors, scientists, economists, and more. Another problem we constantly face is that those making the decisions aren’t necessarily those who are experts in the field. We have continuously adopted an approach to COVID-19 management that doesn’t put doctors and scientists in the driver’s seat where they belong.

We were not prepared for the surge. Although to say it caught us completely off-guard is a fallacy. We knew about variants from other parts of the world spreading rapidly. We knew how contagious they were. But we didn’t make strict enough changes to our border control. We accepted travelers from places where newer and faster-spreading COVID variants were from. Is it shocking that many of these variants are now in the Philippines?

And when the faster-spreading strains were detected in the country we did not take quick and decisive action. Contact tracing, isolating, and trying to control the spread of the new variants did not happen as it should. And now we are, once again, reacting instead of being proactive. Once again, we are too little, too late.

That has been our COVID-19 story thus far – too little, too late. Our government was very aggressive in buying, borrowing, and trying to secure vaccines last year. They wanted to ensure regulation so they wanted to funnel all vaccine purchases through their regulatory board.

While it may have taken longer, that move did make sense as an open market would allow for fake vaccines to run rampant. Something that would very likely happen in the Philippines. However, to ensure this did not happen the government needed to hold up their end of the bargain and get the vaccines in quickly and rolled out throughout the country. We all know how that turned out.

January, February, and March all rolled by in the blink of an eye, and instead of a robust vaccination roll-out, we had to find out why shipments weren’t coming in, why orders were bungled, and why nothing was starting. It was honestly very disheartening to see other countries vaccinating by the millions while we were barely limping along.

At this point though, we can no longer change the past. Some may say all of this is just crying over spilled milk and we should look ahead instead. Still, we can’t move forward without acknowledging how we got here in the first place. As they say, you made your bed, now you have to lie in it. That’s exactly where we are right now.

Our hospitals are overrun, overwhelmed, and overcapacity. Every day, desperate citizens in the metro search for rooms and help, and come up empty. Some have taken to sending sick family members to nearby provinces just to be admitted, but even that option is disappearing fast as hospitals there are now full too.

While the government has mandated an extension of COVID facilities this can’t happen overnight. This should have been done a while back. It will take several weeks to expand facilities, and even then finding healthcare personnel trained to deal with expansions will be a challenge too.

Those in charge have to take quick and decisive action. While an ECQ will help, that cannot be the only solution because quarantine alone is simply not going to be enough. The government has to use this quarantine period to implement real and lasting solutions – a vaccination rollout that is steady and aggressive, expanded COVID-19 healthcare solutions, proper and strict contact tracing (this has deteriorated terribly), continued reliable testing, and assistance for families who need it during the ECQ.

Half-hearted solutions are not cutting it anymore (honestly, did they ever?). If we want to cross the bridge and safely open the economy for economic revival, we need to make bold and lasting changes. Too many people are dying – either from COVID or starvation.

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