Time out and a reset

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - April 21, 2021 - 12:00am

In the middle of the pandemic last year, doctors called for a time out because they were exhausted and frustrated with the fast-rising number of cases amid a floundering government response.

The doctors got a tongue-lashing from Duterte, who even accused them of subversion. But Duterte was forced to declare a two-week ECQ lockdown.

In hindsight, the situation then was nothing compared to what we have now, which is twice as bad at over 200,000 active cases, And Duterte insists his administration is not to be blamed, “Hindi kami nagkulang.”

The numbers tell the horrible story. We have more record-breaking number of cases that have so far refused to go down below 10,000 a day. The DOH detected more infectious variants.

But under pressure because of the tanking economy, Duterte reduced the alert level from ECQ to MECQ. Experts at OCTA Research raised concerns with the relaxation of the quarantine level.

OCTA has been proven right as NCR+ recorded a growth rate of three percent in new COVID-19 cases since the start of the MECQ. This is in contrast to the 20 percent decline in the rate of infections when NCR+ was under ECQ.

Meanwhile, conditions on the ground have become more dire. NCR hospitals are not just 100 percent full, but 200 percent, Dr. Maricar Limpin, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.

“Marami kaming nakikita na severe na o critical. It’s frustrating sa amin kasi by the time na makita namin, malalang-malala na ang mga kababayan natin. Kinakaya na lang talaga namin, ang mga emergency department namin ay talagang punong-puno. Hindi lang punong-puno, it is about 200-percent capacity…”

Dr. Limpin said the government must enforce “long-term” programs, such as digitizing its contact-tracing, testing all people exposed to virus patients, and improving its referral of COVID-19 cases.

Efforts to digitize contact tracing have been a failure because IATF is insisting on an app with questionable privacy security features. It is also based on 4G technology when most Pinoys are still on 2G. Former DICT usec Eliseo Rio had a more workable proposal for contact tracing, but was ignored.

Here are some numbers that tell us where we are:

Last April 17, DOH reported 11,101 new cases, more than 10,000 for the third straight day and the eighth highest single-day tally. This brings the total to 926,052 cases and 203,710 are active, the highest in Southeast Asia since the pandemic began. We are likely to register a million cases before month ends.

Our government has administered 1,456,793 dose of vaccines nationwide as of April 17. This includes 1,264,811 who have been given their first doses of either AstraZeneca or Sinovac vaccines, while 191,982 health workers have been given their second dose. We have a very long way to go to get herd immunity.

Given how the virus seems to be infecting more victims each day, people are getting paranoid, frightened, and frustrated. Many are asking if there is still a government in charge to ease their concerns and address their needs.

The ayudas are not getting to the poor fast enough. And to get the paltry sum, only good to cover needs for a day or two, one risks being infected by the virus in those long lines of people.

The situation has become so bad, people have decided to just help each other.

Starting from a street in Quezon City, community pantries sprouted all over the country. Those in need of food can get what they need for free, while those who can afford to donate are encouraged to donate.

People see the community pantries as a reaction to the government’s inadequate response to the pandemic and its lockdowns. Help is not reaching the people who need help the most.

The same thing is happening with the urgent need for overflow medical facilities. Because the government was slow to react, the Philippine Red Cross decided to set up nine emergency field hospitals at the Lung Center of the Philippines.

Sen. Dick Gordon, who heads the Red Cross, explained that they situated their emergency field hospital near the Lung Center compound so those who tested positive and need hospital admission can have access to doctors, nurses, X-ray, CT-scan, laboratories, and other medical facilities.

Since vaccines are still not available for most people, there were those, including some doctors, who opted to use a drug not approved by the FDA for prophylaxis and COVID treatment. Even if “anecdotal evidence” about the effectiveness of Ivermectin is not scientifically based, people are taking it out of fear and lack of choice.

The private sector wants to do more to help in this crisis, but DOH keeps throwing hindrances. For example, there are stringent rules on how companies can import vaccines and use the vaccines they imported for their employees.

There is now this wide chasm of credibility that the government faces in this pandemic. People are questioning DOH numbers… are they undercounting cases?

Eckie Gonzalez of The Medical City made these points:

“In our experience, severe and critical cases typically move in lockstep with COVID cases- in February, five percent of active cases were severe and critical, consistent with what we have seen in the past year.

“But in April, even as active cases sky-rocketed, severe and critical cases were reported to have gone down to just one percent.

“Have severe and critical cases really gone down as a percentage of active COVID cases? Or are more people dying in their homes unreported as COVID? Or are some of these being misclassified as mild?

“Even the R naught rate has become a source of confusion… reports have been issued that our R naught rate is improving and that we are bending the curve – even in the midst of higher positivity rates.”

We need a time out and a reset. A timeout for the government to come clean on the real status of our COVID situation. We also need a reset with a change of some key officials in the COVID team. We can’t go on like this and expect to defeat the virus.



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

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