Costly
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Quarantine is purgatory.

Most of us realized over the past week what a luxury GCQ is compared to MECQ. These are the acronyms that have defined what we do with our day since the pandemic broke out.

The most significant difference, apart from having to bring our quarantine passes all the time, is the absence of public transport under MECQ. Without public transport, workers could not get to work. If they could not get to work, all the factories and shops could not run. The economy is put on forced coma.

But choking mobility by taking out public transport is the point of it all. By choking mobility, we expect to bring down infection rates.

Under MECQ, the economy loses billions more each day. That will not be helpful in pulling us out of the unexpectedly deep recession we found ourselves in. It is an extremely costly measure.

We thought we had found a sustainable strategy in using highly localized, “granular” lockdowns to deal with infection outbreaks. That was the policy at the start of August until all the country’s medical associations issued a joint statement asking government to immediately restore stricter quarantines.

The numbers backed the joint statement. Infection numbers were climbing. Bed capacity was running short. Hospitals were turning away very sick people, including non-Covid cases, because they had no means to admit them. Many sick people expired because of this. It is the outcome of government directives to hospitals to shift more capacity to deal with Covid-19 infections. The death toll is shifted to those with other morbidities.

With the medical community in virtual rebellion, government backed down. We basically abandoned the “granular” strategy and returned to wholesale restrictions on movement. We hope we are not burning the house down to get rid of the rats.

We will know in a few weeks if the wholesale lockdown of entire regions will save our health system from collapse. What is certain is the wholesale restrictions on movement will bring the domestic economy closer to collapse.

Our trade officials estimate a fourth of our small enterprises has shut down. Small enterprises employ the bulk of our workers. Too many of them might not reopen at all.

We have to find a way to break this unwholesome synergy between rising infection and falling employment numbers. If government has found a way to do this, it has not communicated it to our people. If it has not, then we are in deep trouble.

Our people’s morale is on the verge of breaking. That is not a good thing, considering we might be locked in this battle for at least one more year. Our determination to carry on fighting must not flag.

Given that we have such an inarticulate President, it becomes Harry Roque’s job to communicate to our people, assuring us that we are moving in the right direction. Our people need a little bit of rallying. Someone has to do that job.

Alas, Roque was last heard quarrelling with the ASEAN tally board that shows the Philippines has the highest number of confirmed cases. The Palace spokesman argues that Indonesia, with nearly thrice our population, must have more cases except that they were testing less than we have.

That is not a productive argument to pick – akin to the declaration he made at the end of June that the country was victorious in beating the projection of infections offered by a team of UP experts.

All I learned from the philosophy courses I took in college boils down to this one statement: We don’t know what we don’t know.

What we know is what the ASEAN tally board of confirmed cases tells us. Any argument based on what we do not know is a complete waste of time and energy.

The time and energy would be better expended convincing our people we have a sound strategy in place – and we will not be in purgatory forever.

Managers

The numbers allegedly lost to corruption at Philhealth are staggering indeed. Unfortunately, critics of the administration choose to focus on a faux issue: the fact that a retired general now heads this corruption-prone agency.

This is part of the mantra being peddled: that the “failure” of the effort against Covid-19 is due to the “militarization” of government’s response. That is a completely misleading charge.

The retired military and police officers are called back to government service for their managerial skills and executive talent. The AFP officer corps after all has a post-graduate profile second only to the UP. The Republic has invested much in their education and training.

It would be a waste to simply yield that talent pool to the private sector after officers retire at the relatively early age of 57. Conversely, it has always been difficult for government to recruit executive talent already well rewarded in the private sector.

The retired generals who play lead roles in managing the crisis are mostly there because of the agencies they lead. One retired police general was recruited to the team because of his accomplishments as elected mayor of Baguio City.

They do not make policy. They execute policy with whatever logistics are at their disposal. They are well trained and experienced at doing that. They have delivered quite well in doing what they needed to do.

Our response to the pandemic has consistently been science-led. If it is wanting, it is because of structural weakness in our health system and an appalling inability to manage data well enough to guide policy.

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