File photo shows some of 3818 beneficiaries of Social Amelioration Program in Brgy. Pasong Tamo in Quezon City lined up early on the morning of May 4, 2020.
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Government banks on 'discipline' as likely shift to GCQ nears
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - May 28, 2020 - 2:26pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has recommended that Metro Manila shift to a General Community Quarantine, with officials stressing citizens are now "more disciplined" to follow health protocols. 

Speaking in an interview with CNN Philippines on Thursday morning, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said: "We assume that people are more disciplined now and that they will still follow health protocols."

"The level of confidence is high. Filipinos have proven that they can follow the rules," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino in a press briefing also on Thursday.

READ: Metro Manila ready for GCQ, says Roque

Roque added that the National Capital Region is ready to shift to a more lenient GCQ but would require the cooperation of Filipinos. 

Both pronouncements are consistent with the government putting the responsibility of curbing the spread of COVID-19 on Filipinos by showing "discipline", and the blame on rising cases on their being "pasaway" or stubborn.

Separate studies by researchers from the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas have warned of a potential rise in COVID-19 cases if Metro Manila shifts to GCQ from the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine.

Although physical distancing and limited movement will help keep the disease from spreading, the UST CoV-2 model said the rise in cases is not inevitable and "can be offset with a rigorous tracking, testing, and tracing program that seeks to limit community spread by breaking chains of viral transmission." 

 The UP study, meanwhile, said that "mass randomized testing and contact tracing will help determine the actual number of cases, including asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic cases, and will help control the spread of COVID-19 by identifying and tracking the silent spreaders of the disease."

RELATED: Mass hiring of contact tracers eyed to resolve outbreak, job losses

Coalition for People's Right to Health, in a May 26 statement, said that the government still needs to maximize testing capacity to address backlogs and delays in the release of COVID-19 test results 

"In fact, even with 30,000 tests/day, it will take 57 days to meet the 2 million target for 'expanded targetted testing' of the IATF. Thus, it is imperative that further laboratories are needed to strengthen mass testing capabilities and avoid further backlog," it also said.

CPRH said that the government has prioritized testing and tracing the contacts of symptomatic patients, which means many possible COVID-19 cases who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic are not tested and isolated.

The group stressed that "mass testing remains essential in breaking [the prioritization of symptomatic patients], which must coincide with increasing testing capacity, as well as aggressive contact tracing that facilitates and directs our testing towards where it is most needed by the people."

The World Health Organization has meanwhile sounded the alarm over the country's sluggish contact tracing efforts.

READ: Government confident of eliminating testing backlog 'in two weeks'

The 'Pasaway' narrative

Despite gaps in government response, public officials since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic have been using the narrative Filipinos are "pasaway"— or are stubbornly ignoring quarantine guidelines — and are to blame for the rising cases of COVID-19.

This was revived as some low-risk areas were graduated to general community quarantine and modified ECQ and many Filipinos went to malls, where some non-leisure businesses had been allowed to resume operations.

The quarantine enforcement arm of the government's COVID-19 task force took care to remind the public that the re-opening of establishments was done mainly to revive a damaged economy and not for people to "lakwatsa" or go out for leisure purposes. 

They even said that malls would be closed and management be slapped with charges. 

READ: JTF COVID Shield: Eased quarantine is for the economy, not 'for leisure'

Most malls, though, have supermarkets, pharmacies, and hardware stores, which are all considered essential businesses.

Others like Sen. Koko Pimentel and Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, Metro Manila police chief, are facing separate raps readied against them for breaches of quarantine protocols. 

They were not called 'pasaway', and President Rodrigo Duterte himself even virtually cleared Sinas, saying Metro Manila's top cop should not be blamed that a gathering was held for his birthday.

RELATED: Why some are saying 'social distancing' is a privilege 

Surveys show Filipinos actually cautious about coronavirus

Separate surveys by the Social Weather Stations contradict the 'Pasaway' narrative.

One found that most Filipinos — 87% of respondents — generally more afraid of getting and transmitting COVID-19 compared to any other pathogen in the past.

READ: SWS: Filipinos more worried about catching COVID-19 than past viruses

Another found that four out of five Filipinos left the house at least once and at most thrice in the week before the survey was conducted. Respondents said they did so for essentials, mainly food.

One final survey released Monday read:

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, 77% of working-age Filipinos (15 years old and above) always use a face mask when going out of their houses, 68% always wash their hands several times a day, and 64% always keep “social distance” or a safe distance of one meter from other people when outside their homes.

READ: 'War' narrative in COVID-19 crisis fails to empower Filipinos, groups say

DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EXPLAINER INTER-AGENCY TASK FORCE ON EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES NEWS ANALYSIS NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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