EDITORIAL - Make the timeout count
EDITORIAL - Make the timeout count
(The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2020 - 12:00am

The two-week “timeout” is not intended to flatten the coronavirus disease 2019 curve, but to give medical frontliners a break from surging COVID-19 cases and allow the government to recalibrate its pandemic response. This was stressed by the medical groups that called for the restoration of stringent restrictions to contain the spread of COVID.

After weighing the impact on the battered economy, President Duterte announced a return of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal to tighter restrictions – not to the strictest enhanced community quarantine as suggested by the medical groups, but to the slightly more lenient modified ECQ.

Experts from the University of the Philippines agreed that the two-week break would not flatten the COVID curve. Still, they noted that the return to MECQ for two weeks starting today would significantly cut their projection of COVID cases hitting 220,000 by the end of the month. The UP experts say that from 50,000 to 70,000 infections could be prevented as a result of the MECQ.

Attaining the higher end of that range will depend on how the government and the citizenry alike can maximize the timeout, which will undoubtedly aggravate the livelihood woes of millions of people. Mass transportation services are again suspended and the movement of people outside the home restricted, with quarantine passes again required. Many businesses that were allowed to resume operations under the more lenient general community quarantine, such as barbershops and salons, dine-in restaurants and gyms are again temporarily closed.

Among the hardest hit are the daily wage earners, including drivers of public utility vehicles who were just starting to resume their operations. President Duterte has said that the government is running out of funds and the country can no longer afford a protracted lockdown.

The two-week timeout, which can reduce community transmission, should be maximized so the government, working with the private sector, can ramp up capabilities and enhance protocols for the so-called three T’s: testing, tracing and treatment. Government agencies and private establishments whose operations have been suspended anew can use the break to improve workplace protocols for physical distancing, transport to and from offices, and compliance with other health safety guidelines.

In this pandemic, the government cannot afford to have its medical frontliners and health facilities overwhelmed. The frontliners deserve their timeout, but it comes at a steep price to livelihoods. Every effort must be made to ensure that the timeout does not go to waste.

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