Better safe than sorry
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - April 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion is proposing that after April 14, the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine should be shifted to selective quarantine in barangays with confirmed COVID-19 cases; allow agriculture, manufacturing and construction to operate based on demand (meaning physical work will be permitted in these sectors); allow public transportation (although at a reduced level) to facilitate the movement of workers who need to report to their workplace, with private vehicles, bicycles and certain types of vehicles allowed as well but consistent with social distancing protocols. 

Joey is proposing a two-week quarantine period in order to gradually transition to “normal,” with checkpoints to be relaxed to allow the free movement of goods. “Between the choice of lives lost to COVID and lives lost to hunger, our goal is to reduce the total number of lives lost,” he said, stressing the need to start reviving the economy.

No doubt there is merit in Joey’s proposal. It’s really a balancing act between people making a living and the general welfare of the public. The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) should not rush things and should carefully consider the situation before any final decision is made. We certainly don’t want to make the situation get far worse. 

IATF spokesperson, Secretary Karlo Nograles, is right in saying that science will determine whether the quarantine will be lifted, extended or expanded. The World Health Organization warned against lifting the quarantine, saying the government should carefully consider the “epidemiological situation” and to be extremely cautious in lifting the public health measures that were imposed with the lockdown in order to control the disease.

Filipino scientist Darwin Bandoy also recommends extending the quarantine for at least three months. Technically speaking, we are very far from the peak because we have not yet tested enough people. We are really caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Even here in the United States, President Trump who has always been gung-ho about the economy, has extended social distancing guidelines that urge people to stay at home until April 30, heeding the advice of America’s leading infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci who had warned that 100,000-plus Americans could die despite social distancing in place – meaning this would be the “best-case scenario.” 

On the other hand, a high of 1.6 million to 2.2 million Americans could die due to complications of COVID-19 if precautionary measures are not adopted, said White House coronavirus task force lead coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx. “We’re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines to a T… And I can tell by the curve and as it is today that not every American is following it,” said Dr. Birx, strongly urging every state to follow social distancing guidelines to save lives and not put the entire nation in danger. 

Here in Washington, we continue to do our job without compromising our health. Fortunately, technology is helping us enforce social distancing with the Zoom videoconference app. Our meeting with our Consuls General all over the United States the other day helped put our heads together and find creative ways to help stranded Filipinos. We are well aware that our head office is completely swamped so we try our best to find solutions and not be the problem.

Globally, the number of cases has breached one million with the US accounting for about 25 percent with over 270,000 confirmed cases as of this writing.  

The US is learning from the lessons of Italy, France and Spain – countries that waited too long before declaring a lockdown and are now registering the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Europe. Recent reports from Spain and Italy however show that they seem to be flattening the curve, indicating a measure of success from their strict distancing protocols. But officials said they are not about to lift restrictions because it is too early to do so. 

Dr. Fauci had warned that the coronavirus could keep coming back year after year, and the only ultimate game changer will be a vaccine which could take a year to 18 months to develop at the earliest. More testing is also being rolled out as experts have noted that the limitations in testing slowed down the nation’s response to the virus whose speed of infection was faster.  

All of us need to realize that this pandemic is like World War III, except that we have an enemy that is invisible. Like World War II, it will take a powerful bomb – that is, the right vaccine – to end this horrific war.

There are promising vaccine developments but for now, we need test kits in the Philippines. Abbott Laboratories developed the ID NOW COVID-19 portable test kit that can detect whether a patient is positive of COVID-19 or not in 15 minutes. Secretary Sonny Dominguez called me about this and I told him I spoke with Abbott’s manager for international government affairs in Washington, D.C., Jose Edgar Ledonio, who luckily happens to be a Filipino-American. While Abbott is obviously prioritizing the US with so many countries also waiting, we are currently on the priority list.  

In a crisis like this, nothing is more important than saving lives. Even businessmen recognize that their businesses are dependent on people. While the economy may be shattered by this unseen enemy, we will surely recover. Let us not forget that a life lost is gone forever. We all know that “health is wealth” – and that it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  

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