‘At your own risk’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2020 - 12:00am

More than confused, the Filipino people for sure are getting lost on the various statistics and official figures being churned out related to the government’s measures to contain the 2019 coronavirus disease (C19) pandemic. Even presidential spokesman Harry Roque had to correct himself. Just last Monday, Roque claimed the government has already met its target daily testing capacity for C19 infection at 32,000 a day ahead of schedule by the end of this month.

Roque particularly referred to the May 31 committed target set to be achieved by Vince Dizon, vice chief implementer of the government’s “test, trace and treat” action plan. However, the Department of Health (DOH) on the same day immediately clarified Roque merely cited the supply side of the testing kits available now in the country.

DOH undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergeire admitted they are only able to do between 8,500 to 9,500 tests a day using the existing laboratory facilities that have already met the safety standards of the DOH. “With all the many factors affecting our labs, we are trying hard to attain the target that has been set … (So far), we only have 42 licensed laboratories – 34 real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and 8 GeneXpert laboratories,” Vergeire pointed out.

The DOH hopes though to achieve the testing capacity of 32,000 a day as soon as the additional testing laboratories for C-19 all over the country are set up, pass the safety standards, and fully operate. In her regular virtual presser at the DOH, she disclosed 123 testing laboratories have submitted applications to the DOH while another 96 laboratory facilities are now on stage 3 and 4 of DOH inspection for their licensing.

The DOH – as repeatedly declared by DOH Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III – hews closely to the international safety standards set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) in dealing with the C19 pandemic.  As per WHO, the PCR is the “gold standard” for C19 testing amid persistent demands by certain quarters, especially here in our country batting for the use of rapid anti-body testing.

Duque, who chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Disease (IATF), rigidly follows what the WHO standards that somehow puts him into trouble with people opposed to policy dictates from this global health body. During the IATF meeting last Monday night at Malacanang, President Rodrigo Duterte mildly rebuked Duque not to be “touchy” on those who opposed his policy or stand on public health crisis issues like the C19.

“Because always there will be pros and cons, let’s just hear them out because this is a democracy,” President Duterte told Duque. “I know you are hard-pressed and I know your situation… Maybe you should adopt that kind of attitude. So be it. If I committed the wrong, as long as there is no malice there,” the Chief Executive stressed. Duque is under fire anew over alleged “over-priced” procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs) and reported “profiteering” of a local distributor of testing machines tapped by the DOH that certain Senators questioned.

Much earlier, 14 Senators signed a Resolution calling for the resignation of Duque for his perceived mis-handling of the government’s anti-COVID measures. Senators and critics of Duque again clamored for Duque’s resignation following the testimony of the DOH Secretary at the Senate committee of the whole last week when he declared the country is now on its “second wave” of C19.

The President could only sneeze at this debate as he noted the latest global tally of C19 cases of infection and deaths: “Ano ba talaga itong – are we on the second, third, fourth or fifth wave? Or no wave at all?”

On the alleged “over-priced” PPEs, the President upheld the decision of both the DOH and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to procure the much more expensive set of PPE that is compliant with WHO safety standards. The Chief Executive –  who has publicly espoused he does not subscribe to “lowest price” in government public bidding – averred he would not compromise the lives of the Filipino health care workers and other frontliners in using cheaper but more exposed to C19 infection.

While he was cleared on the PPEs, the President, however, ordered the probe on the “profiteering” charges against a distributor hired by the DOH for the supply of C19 testing machine.

For the meantime, Duque remains in the Cabinet as the head of the IATF that have yet to report to the President on the 14-day review of the community quarantine period. The last lockdown extension is due to lapse by the end of this week. According to Roque, the IATF though might be able to announce today the new lockdown rules.

Metro Manila and six other provinces in Luzon are currently in modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ). All Mayors comprising the Metro Manila Council –17 out of 17 – voted to recommend to the IATF to downgrade their respective areas under the general community quarantine (GCQ). Aside from use of thermal body scanning, imposing strict physical distancing, provision for hand sanitizers and alcohol, and the like, the IATF requires establishments to subject to C19 testing all their returning employees and workers.

Most part of the Philippines classified as “low-risk” for resurgence of C19 infection have earlier been categorized as GCQ that allowed the re-opening of certain economic and business activities but required to follow these minimum health standards.

Whether it is MECQ or GCQ, the President wryly noted many Filipinos have been boldly going out after stringent lockdown have been eased by the government instead of heeding IATF call for people to “stay home” as the best way to be safe from COVID contagion.

In his public address aired last Monday night, the President warned: “Hindi ibig sabihin na tapos na ang COVID. Nandito pa rin. So kung gusto mong lumabas ngayon – sa ngayon wala pang medisina, walang vaccine, at your own risk ‘yan.”

Eventually once the lockdowns are lifted, we all have to watch out for our own selves against C19. We have to brave the so-called “new normal” here in our world.

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