Things haven’t changed

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

It’s May and we are now entering a period of a more “relaxed” MECQ. This means more establishments are allowed to open and operate again, and potentially more people are going to be out, attempting to resume their lives as they were before the enhanced community quarantine was implemented back in March.

Many Filipinos, especially the masses, take this to mean that things are getting better. The harsh reality though is that nothing has really changed. Our COVID-19 numbers are just as bad, ranging from the 8,500 to 9,500 or more. This is a far cry from the lower 1,500 to 2,500 we were registering in December and even January. We are facing a far more virulent strain that is passed on easier and the numbers show just how devastating this has been on our people, our healthcare system, and our economy.

And yet, for some reason, our government is making it seem as if things are “improving”? All you have to do is look to see that things haven’t changed. While we are debating on the safety and overall business viability of opening restaurants for dine-in at 10 percent capacity (is it even worth opening at that rate?), our hospitals and healthcare workers are still overwhelmed daily and our vaccine program is still running at a snail’s pace.

In addition to all of this, we are still not being strict with our borders. While there are “guidelines” in place for people coming into the country, what are the guarantees that these guidelines are strictly implemented? We already see what the newer strains can do. Do we need to invite more in at this point?

We had a chance to curb infections at the start of the pandemic if we had been more careful and strictly protected the country. The influx of travelers brought the coronavirus to our shores and the second wave arrived in the same way. Have we just decided to shrug our shoulders and continue to welcome passengers because the strains are already here?

A strict and hard quarantine, coupled with stricter inbound passenger regulations, a strong push for better testing, tracing, and isolation, and an aggressive vaccine rollout may have made a difference in the past month. But the only thing that happened was people were asked to stay indoors. While vaccinations have started, at present we have only inoculated roughly two percent – a far cry from the required 70 percent to reach minimum herd immunity.

And to add insult to injury, it looks like more vaccine delivery delays are in the future. Government vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. has already stated that with delivery delays on the horizon again, areas that are high risk should be given priority in the government’s vaccination drive. This would mean Metro Manila+ and the surrounding provinces.

But why are we facing another round of vaccine delays? It’s getting very disheartening and frustrating. While we mourn the tragedies that India is facing and understand the difficulties of the massive impact COVID has had on the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world, we can’t also help but look at why it has been so difficult to get vaccines to the country when we are already mired in debt in the name of procurement. Red tape shouldn’t be an issue here. After all, it’s an emergency of epic proportions.

And why is it still so difficult for private entities to get their shipments in? Even with the promised 50/50 deals with the government, private companies are also experiencing delays that could impact their vaccine rollout programs tentatively slated to start June/July. This isn’t that far away if you think about it and things should already be in motion if they want to meet those deadlines. I thought the President had already removed all the red tape from these procurements? Let’s hope that happens.

Currently, a lot of LGUs have halted their vaccine drives because they are already out. These delays are not only time-consuming, but are potentially costing lives too.

At this point, we need to see actual change and concrete solutions. Talking about what needs to be done is not enough, and certainly the time to make plans has already long passed. We need to be successfully implementing these plans if we want to see any kind of impact.

Quite frankly, it’s exhausting thinking about the way forward. Unlike other nations that may be seeing a glimmer of hope, we are still in the middle of the dark tunnel, with no end in sight. We need to be doing more if we want things to even remotely change this year. If not, we’re just going to remain in an endless cycle of infection and economic sinkhole, and no amount of quarantine is going to change that.

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