Eggshells and tenterhooks
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Fifty thousand years after we emerged from caves, we are sent scampering back, cowering. Home is supposed to be our castle but even health and security in our abodes can no longer be guaranteed.

That indelible torture scene from the movie Marathon Man when Laurence Olivier as nazi dentist drills and probes into the exposed nerve of Dustin Hoffman’s front tooth? He coldly demanded, over and over: “is it safe?” The phrase succinctly captures the hesitation we confront daily with the decision to get out of bed. Is it safe?

Talking about state of the nation, SWS reports that 85 percent of us worry about getting sick from the virus. The conflicting, confounding and the “condensed” pronouncements of our public officials have contributed to this psychological insecurity.

Somos o no somos. Presidential Spokesman Sec. Harry Roque insists that our national strategy is “working”, infuriating many. His benchmarks? The low mortality rate; the acceptable cumulative positivity rate; the improvement of our ICU capacity to medium risk from “danger zone” in early July; and even the high 91 percent mask use compliance levels of Filipinos (2nd to Singapore’s 94 percent in a survey of 29 countries and territories).

But the unabated spike of infections escalates public anxiety. Thursday’s daily count was 2,200, again surpassing the 2,000 threshhold. Pop culture stalwart Sharon Cuneta articulated the view that government has not “been managing this health crisis effectively”. The sense is that after enduring that punishing lockdown, we’re back to where we started.

People are not so unrealistic as to expect full deliverance at the hands of our leaders. To see that they are putting in their best effort is enough. Neither are we so exacting as to insist on being informed 100 percent of the time. But it is critical that we get the right information. We deserve that. So we can act accordingly as our salvation is ultimately up to us. Ms. Cuneta asked that government please just tell the truth. Actually, even just the facts will do.

The truth shall set you free. UNESCO’s Guy Berger, director for policies and strategies regarding communication and information explained in an interview: “in a time of high fears, uncertainties and unknowns, there is fertile ground for fabrications to flourish and grow. The big risk is that any single falsehood that gains traction can negate the significance of a body of true facts. When disinformation is repeated and amplified, including by influential people, the grave danger is that information which is based on truth, ends up having only marginal impact.”

According to Berger, the rights to freedom of expression and access to information are crucial. They “enable governments and the public to take evidence-based decisions about reality, and to put in place responses that are founded on both science and human rights values, and which can get us through the pandemic in the best way.”

The President has been appointing czars. Perhaps the four czars could use a fifth? A truth czar.

Easy on the fudge, please. Government should come clean on, among others: (1) Flattening the curve. We all read the same data. If there is something to convey that people don’t have access to, then do share. We see what is working or who is winning. (2) Active cases. We rank high in active cases. If our recovery rate were higher, then the case count will diminish. The latest statistic is that 91 percent of our infections are mild.

They’re supposed to get well fast. Do we need a 6th czar to track and report their status? According to data analyst Edson Guido, a lot of the mild cases that have recovered remain unreported for weeks. (3) Testing. 2 weeks ago, we already hit 75,000 daily testing capacity. And yet, the highest actual daily tests conducted is 27,000, our daily average still only 21,000. Should there be another statistic on capacity of the capacity? When we hit 32,000 or more daily tests, we avoid 4 to 6,000 deaths. This was the target for end of May. But here we are, approaching end of July. On a positive note, the UP test kits are now good to go. (4) Tracing. With Bayanihan 2, we will have the budget for 50,000 additional contact tracers. Right now, we have 65,675 aside from the LGUs’ own and those hired by the private sector. WHO’s ideal tracer to population ratio is 1:800. For a population of 109 million, that would mean at least a corps of 136,000. (5) Policy on home quarantine. Sec. Roque himself chided the DOH for not being clear that asymptomatic and mild patients choosing to self-isolate should have separate room and bathroom facilities.

Adding to the aggravation is the lingering mystery on the possible airborne transmission of the virus. WHO has not ruled this out. In a statement, it said: “ ... short-range aerosol transmission, particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out.”

On Monday, the nation hears from PRRD direct. It will be a summation of where we are and where he intends to take us. This will be the most important SONA of our lives. He’ll be speaking to a public of which 43 percent anticipate a life much worse in the coming year. At a time such as this, we will need the truth and just the facts.

Passages. UP Diliman Political Science Batch ’85 and the UP Association of Political Science Majors are just two of the many groups that celebrate the life of this quiet, unassuming giant of a man. Atty. Eric P. Acolola gave so much of himself to his family and friends, his job, the community and his country. All are the better for it. Sweet rest, brother. We fold our arms in your honor.

LAURENCE OLIVIER
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