When all else fails
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2020 - 12:00am

One of the most unpleasant situations to find yourself in would be “to be right” and able to say: “I told you so,” especially if all you’ve been trying to do is help and share logical observation. Sadly, we are now in the position and receiving end of an “I told you so” moment.

Just yesterday, I interviewed a number of people, all of whom confirmed that the community transmissions and spike in COVID-19 cases is not just because of increased testing as Malacañang has a habit of over simplifying. LGU officials are convinced that the community transmissions were triggered by the gradual reopening of the economy, our shift to GCQ in Metro Manila as well as the return of public transportation for people going back to work. A couple of officials also confirmed that most of the cases now involve families, where workers between 21 and 59 have been going to work, getting infected at work, remained asymptomatic and then brought home the virus to their spouses, children and parents.

When the IATF and government set the rules on who could go out and who needed to stay home, we pointed out that unless work places could confine or accommodate workers for several weeks and test them before giving them “days off,” there was a great risk that these workers and employees might end up bringing the virus back to their loved ones. In fact, that was why some people argued loudly against face-to-face learning because young adults and children reportedly have very strong resistance against COVID-19 that would make them live carriers of a virus that will make their parents and grandparents seriously ill or kill them.

Remember the first two weeks of GCQ where people kept pointing out on social media the serious lack of public transport? The suggestions that offices and work place be placed on two-shift schedules so more people can work but not have to walk or cram in buses, MRT and LRT? Remember when people pointed out that providing additional trucks where social distancing was no longer observed would result in more infections? Well, all the logical observations and yes, even the criticisms have turned out to be truly prophetic.

Now we hear from government the constant refrain that they don’t have the money to fund another ECQ and that the economy will fail if we don’t keep it open.

Alongside that there is a renewed debate regarding the continued use of rapid test kits because of its sketchy accuracy. Some say it has an irritatingly high percentage of false-positive while others claim it is about the high false-negatives. Ironically, very little has been done to officially and scientifically test the rapid test kits. According to my friend Mayor Alfred Romualdez, they did side by side tests of US made rapid test kits versus the gold standard RT-PCR swab tests and the US made kits gave the same confirmation. The only argument against rapid testing is that it does not indicate whether you currently have COVID-19. It merely indicates that you already have it because of the anti-bodies the tests have tracked.

Another area that the government should have seriously looked into and not merely followed the World Health Organization is the efficacy and usefulness of Hydroxichloroquine combined with Azitromycin and Zinc. Several doctors have confessed using the combination under “Compassionate Use” protocol. Instead of allowing international politics and commercial disinformation to blind us, the government should have quietly looked into the matter. The same goes for any and all suggestions or ideas being pushed forward regarding how to address certain problems or challenges.

Here’s the thing that no one in government wants to talk about: Testing is good; good for what? You can be tested on Monday, be infected on Tuesday, spread the virus on Wednesday and Thursday and get your test results on Friday and be told you are negative. Assuming you are COVID-free and stay COVID-free, you are only safe within a COVID-free environment. Unless the governments both local and national begin to build physical borders and fences and start issuing residency cards, no city or municipality in Mega Metro Manila can weed out COVID-19 and the risk of infection. That makes all the testing pointless unless we test and segregate and isolate people and communities.

At this stage, the national government has to come up with a real plan, real goals and objectives and stick to the plan. I compliment the Duterte administration for being a “Responsive Government.” They have responded time and again to complaints, suggestions and appeals from LGUs and the citizenry regarding rules and strategies. But what we now need is a well-studied and thought out plan that we can all stand behind and support. First and foremost we need to decide what the priority is. Is it health, a medical offensive? Patient management? House-to-house pooled tests, house-to-house disinfection alongside a census for the National ID and visual determination of economic status, etc.? We cannot mix two battle plans; that is self-defeating because one is about containing the virus and the other, opening up the economy entails exposure to the virus. It has to be health first and economy after. The one thing the national government really needs to invest in are research and studies on items that need resolution: What was the over-all impact of GCQ and reopening of the economy to the control or spread of COVID-19? Can the government secure and pay back loans to bankroll ECQ or MECQ and for how long? How can we really achieve COVID-free zones, contain them and move to the next circle, zone or area. Is it possible to create localized economies, go for localization of jobs and hiring? It was science fiction yesterday, it is the new normal today!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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