Crosses and crescents
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Congratulations to all new graduates. COVID-19 may have dampened the exhilaration of the moment. But none before have been gifted with the sense of perspective from living through this pandemic. As a milestone, a COVID-19 graduation enables you distinctively to channel change at this great crossroads of life.

As for the rest of us, we can’t seem to get out of the morass. Yesterday, the President confirmed what we knew in our hearts. We’ll still bear the GCQ cross in the hotspots. We’re far from the other end of the tunnel.

Radical. Contact tracing, now ubiquitous, pierced popular consciousness early. The lockdown started on March 16 but, even before that, Government already had the playbook for pushback. The DILG issued Memorandum Circular 2020-023 on Feb. 6. Its provisions referred to possible infections from persons arriving from countries with nCOV confirmed cases. Community transmission was far from mind.

Local chief executives were to immediately mobilize Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to help implement prevention and mitigation measures for what was referred to as the Novel Coronavirus Acute Respiratory Disease. Included in their functions was contact tracing. The system was already in place.

Five months hence and our knowledge about the virus has grown exponentially. This is the good news. The bad news is that Tracing Czar Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong’s diagnostic testing of LGU capacity establishes that a distressing 0.68 percent only have a “relatively good” contact tracing system. Best case scenario? Three more weeks to get us up to speed. He promised a “radical” transformation. We await that with hope.

A large grain of salt. We presume the regularity of efforts of the DOH in reconciling data with LGUs that generated the controversial mass recovery this Thursday. We were staggered by the new infections (3,954) but it was the adjustment of 38,075 new recoveries that deserved equal contemplation.

We wrote last week of underreporting of recoveries, resulting in the Philippines’ high active case count. We even outstripped ASEAN infection leader, Indonesia. We wondered aloud about this statistic. Was no one getting well?

The DOH, it turns out, was working to straighten out precisely that. Henceforth, we’ll use a time or symptoms based approach to considering an infection active. “Current recovery policies now show that at the 10th day of illness, the risk of transmitting the virus to other people is significantly reduced.” This is the same protocol recognized by the WHO. All mild or asymptomatic cases that have completed the 14 day isolation regimen are now re-tagged as recovered. Just like the US, UK, South Korea, Singapore, we will no longer rely on a test-based strategy. No more need for two negative swab tests before release.

This is why we are suddenly in a better place. Expect the “its working, we’re winning” narrative to have longer legs now. Many, though, are not buying it. Gov. Chiz Escudero, for one, refuses to be swayed. Sen. Win Gatchalian says the better policy is to test. Better safe than sorry.

Isolation. In neighboring Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, mild and asymptomatic positives are sent automatically to centralized, dedicated isolation centers. Or, depending on the capacity of the country, only the truly asymptomatic are sent home for self-isolation.

Here, our self-isolation journey is news only when the Presidential Spokesman acknowledges that there were lapses in the implementation of the isolate at home approach.

A day before announcing the “miracle” 38,075 recoveries, the DOH also raised the alarm on 5 of the quarantine centers in Luzon hitting danger zone, i.e. 70-100 percent utilization rate. Given the re-adjustment to our isolate and release protocols, shouldn’t we be releasing more recovered patients and see a corresponding upgrade from danger zone to warning zone, i.e. 30-69.9 percent utilization?

One of the best things going for our pandemic response efforts is that Pinoys are ready, willing and obedient. We’ve waited blindly for guidance since Day 1. The pasaway narrative is simply undeserved. Let’s hope that this is not made more tragic by our decision makers. There is all this talk about U,V, L or swoosh shaped recovery curves. We should really be applying the same to our learning curve because we are obviously still in it.

More than a rose. If Congress should rename our airport, Roman Tromifov might get lost if he returns to the place he called home for 110 days. Tromifov was the Estonian tourist denied entry to the country last March. The airline he rode in couldn’t fly him out as flights were suspended. So he was stuck at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

His was an uncanny case of life imitating art. Steven Spielberg’s famous “The Terminal” was about another Eastern European, Victor Navorski, stranded at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The hit movie, and the French 1993 comedy drama “Lost in Transit,” was inspired by the true story of Iranian Merhan Nasseri. Because of citizenship issues, Nasseri ended up making Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris his home in the 1990s. First, art imitated life.

Will Mr. Tromifov find his way back if the place is suddenly repackaged as Paliparang Pandaigdig ng Pilipinas? Iconoclasm may succeed in toppling statues or renaming edifices but it cannot erase the histories these monuments celebrate. Our International airport, Leandro Locsin’s Terminal 1, was barely a year old when it became the venue of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination in 1983. That turning point remains one of the most important milestones in our journey as a nation. The airport’s renaming as NAIA by Congressional Act followed soon after.

Some legislators think that the time for commemorating Ninoy Aquino has passed. On the tarmac that fateful day, only one man may have died. But for millions, it was a rebirth. It’s not just his sacrifice that was remembered in dedicating that ground. Equally honored was the redemption of generations. This was catharsis as much as consecration. No amount of revisionism can whitewash that from our DNA.

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