Waging ‘World War C’ scare tactics

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Sounding out the government’s frustration, if not exasperation, presidential spokesman Harry Roque conceded the “scare tactics” might not be enough to stop Filipinos from letting down their guards in the fight against the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This was after the government has allowed shopping malls to reopen in areas that have shifted to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

The MECQ is transition phase between the strictest enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) as “high risk” for COVID-19 contagion, to the more lenient general community quarantine (GCQ). Shopping malls located in these areas that have reopened to the public over the weekend have been swarmed of people in complete disregard of “health protocols” like social or physical distancing to avoid COVID-19 infection.

The worse came the next day – last Monday – when traffic almost came back with a vengeance in Metro Manila as thousands of workers and employees returned to their respective jobs. This was on the first day of MECQ declared in Metro Manila that comprised the entire national capital region (NCR) and other parts of the country reclassified as “transitioning high risk” areas on COVID-19 contagion.

Forced to stay home since March 15 when the Luzon-wide lockdown first took effect following the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the bulk of workers returning to their jobs flocked back mostly to Metro Manila. Despite mass public transport system remain suspended in the MECQ areas, there have been unusual large number of private vehicles, delivery trucks, and perhaps shuttle services provided for the returning workers.

Aside from the volume of vehicles, the COVID checkpoints at various points around the perennial bottlenecks in Metro Manila and other MECQ areas added to the slowing down of traffic flow. This is not to mention the fact the resulting slowdown in traffic flow due to the resumption of construction activities in the infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

Instead of elation that many Filipinos are now able to report back to work starting last Monday, Roque expressed the dismay and concern of the IATF on how the general public threw caution to the wind to the more relaxed lockdown rules. Roque happens to be also acting as the official spokesman for the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

In particular, Roque fears that the country might see again rising number of new COVID-19 infection cases in these areas like Metro Manila now placed under “modified” ECQ. He fears the “doubling time” might go back to sharp increases in new COVID-19 cases unless the “health protocols” are strictly observed and implemented at the workplaces and shopping malls that are now back into operations.

Roque disclosed areas where quarantine restrictions have been eased may be placed again under “jail-like” ECQ if the number of COVID-19 infections increase. This confirmed what was cited in this column last Monday. “Pero kapag dumami pa rin at hindi natin kakayanang magbigay ng critical care doon sa mga magkakasakit, lalo po tayo balik sa kulungan – ECQ lahat uli,” Roque warned.

Despite the initial outcome of the MECQ, the IATF believes it was not a wrong decision to gradually relax quarantine restrictions in areas deemed on the stage of declining cases of COVID-19, according to Roque.  The country also needs to gradually reopen the economy even if the threat of the virus is still there, he pointed out.

“I’m really concerned that despite the fact that we have said over and over again, that until we find the cure or a vaccine, social distancing is still the key to at least containing the spread of the disease,” Roque stressed.

Roque reminded mall owners and other business establishments to comply with “health protocols” from safe physical distancing of at least two meters, provision of hand sanitizers and alcohol, screening of people through body thermals, among others.

And most of all, Roque cited, require the wearing of facemasks – or face closure and legal actions under the penal provisions of the Bayanihan Heal As One Act.

Short of engaging in outright scare tactics, he conceded, the government in partnership with the private sector is coming up with info-mercials on warning about the dangers of COVID-19 aptly entitled: “Takot Ako Sa COVID” “And it’s because we need to send the message that they should be scared of COVID. We don’t want to be fear mongers, but it’s a reality. Without a vaccine, without a medicine, it is a threat that will persist,” Roque pointed out.

In her own regular daily virtual presser later on the same day, Department of Health (DOH) undersecretary Dr. Maria Rosario Vergeire echoed the sentiments of Roque that the government’s campaign against COVID-19 pandemic might suffer setback. From the initial indications of “flattening of the curve” of cases of this deadly flu-like disease, Vergeire is worried on the possible second wave of COVID-19 cases.

Alarmed on the reported influx of mass gathering of people to malls, the DOH undersecretary who has become a popular face on TV reiterated her call for the public to stay at home because the threats of a “second wave” of COVID-19 “is real.” Vergeire made impassioned appeal to the public that the relaxation of the lockdowns should not lead the people to be complacent on this public health crisis raging worldwide.

“We understand that many people have been looking forward to going back to their old lives.  We want to remind everyone that World War C is not yet over.  We are only at the beginning of our long battle against COVID-19,” she called out, adding. “We are just entering into a new chapter of World War C.”

We have yet to hear from President Rodrigo Duterte on his own take on the initial response of people to the “new normal” being implemented by the government. Being a fatalist, the 75-year-old President Duterte – who flew to his home in Davao City during the weekend – is not exactly a good model for the government’s “Takot Ako Sa COVID” in waging World War C scare tactics.

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