Pandemic disbelief

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Many people are feeling some form of pandemic disbelief now, what with the government’s new lockdown orders in response to the possible spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.

It’s difficult to understand how, after 15 months of continuous adherence to health safety guidelines (including the mandatory use of face shields) and the pronounced tight biosecurity measures at the borders, the India-based Delta variant has slipped into our shores to cause all this new fuss.

Micro and small business owners, who had started to look forward to seeing customer patronage improving, are facing the real possibility of having to board up for keeps as a second resuscitation after another hard lockdown may no longer be successful.

It’s become hard for daily wage workers to accept that they may have to go on no-pay rotational forced leaves once again during the next few weeks starting Aug. 6, and perhaps even for a longer time if the government is unable to stem the spread of the Delta variant.

Desperation is etched in the hearts of many impoverished families, with the reality of falling deeper into debts of unpaid rent, water and electricity bills, and for their staple food needs.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has put the number of joblessness and increased poverty at 444,000 and 177,000 during its last briefing as a result of the announced two-week enhanced community quarantines (ECQ). These numbers would increase significantly if the lockdowns are extended.

The cost of this harsh ECQ, according to NEDA, would be P105 billion a week, although the planning agency does not venture to give an estimate of the long-term damage to the economy that the two weeks would pose.

Shotgun approach alternative

The country has been through this shotgun approach where the whole of the National Capital Region (NCR) is subjected to a hard lockdown. From experience, the first call in mid-March last year of just a few weeks extended to a year – and that was for a “less contagious” Alpha variant.

We should expect the government to make full use of lessons gained from having had NCR, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s economic productivity, under that year-long lockdown, one that is recognized all over the world as the harshest because of its inability to curb the virus spread.

An important lesson is to employ granular lockdowns, with strict enforcement of biosecurity protocols only in areas where the Delta variants are surging. This means empowering local governments with the knowledge and containment muscle to carry out pocket quarantines.

A total NCR lockdown is not needed if barangays are able to move quickly to isolate specific communities with heightened infections. This way, total economic paralysis is avoided.

Health experts still swear by the effectiveness of using facemasks, practicing frequent hand washing or sanitizing, and observing social distancing to control the spread of the Delta variant. They add that vaccination, even the China brands, still offers the best protection.

In the US, for example, Delta infections leading to hospitalizations are prevalent in areas where people do not practice such recommended health safety measures and in not believing the existence of the coronavirus and its new strains.

In the UK, which is now on its second week after declaring “Freedom Day” upon reaching vaccination levels exceeding 80 percent of the population, masking in public spaces is no longer mandatory. Even with Delta infections on the rise, hospitalizations and deaths are just a fraction of the previous surge period.

Laser-like focus

In maintaining laser-like focus to keep the economy going, the vaccination pace must be reinforced this August. In Metro Manila where smaller cities have reached out to more than 80 percent of their target population, vaccine supply and vaccination resources must shift to high-density cities like Quezon and Caloocan.

A good balance in vaccine deployment must be observed, especially now that the cities of Cebu and Davao have seen spikes of infections and hospitalizations. Both cities are centers of commerce in their specific regions, and vaccinations should hasten herd immunity.

While vaccination hesitancy is no longer a big issue these days for Filipinos, the availability of vaccine supplies and the readiness of local governments to administer the jabs must be carefully coordinated. Stories of wasted allocations are already surfacing, a sign that not all local governments are ready to receive and dispense of these precious vaccines.

In cases where the opportunity given to priority sectors of the population to be immunized is not taken up, opening vaccinations to those who belong to the economic force should be seriously considered.

With only 30 million doses more expected this month, even a breakneck vaccination campaign will not substantially cover the ideal number of people that will need to be immunized to keep the country’s economic engine continuously grinding.

We may need to demand the unvaccinated to keep their facemasks on inside homes where there are members of the family who have been vaccinated, and therefore, are potential or asymptomatic carriers of the virus. Such breakthrough infections among the vaccinated should be seriously studied.

It’s going to be another suspenseful month for the country under another hard lockdown, and perhaps the biggest lesson we have learned from the last 15 months is that the government needs to rely on all its citizens to get through this crisis.

From soup kitchens and community pantries, to an almost exemplary submission to staying at home or using facemasks and face shields, Filipinos will overcome, even after manifesting a disbelief of having to go through another lockdown.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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