Doctors vs generals vs lawyers = confusion
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Doctors should be the ones consulted on health and medical issues. They studied years for it. But doctors in the Department of Health have surrendered that role to the generals. Fighting pandemic requires skill in mobilization and logistics. Generals are decisive, the reason President Duterte stuffed them in his Cabinet. Still generals defer to lawyers. Argumentative by nature, lawyers can debate any given position and project influence. From which, obedient generals slink away.

That’s how counter-pandemic safe distancing suddenly was shortened starting this week from one meter to three-fourths. The lawyers in the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases so ruled. The doctors and generals could only mutter disagreement. Next week safe spacing will be further reduced to half-meter, then to one-third in a fortnight, the lawyers went on. It’s their decision.

Thence what, to one-fourth, one-eighth, one-sixteenth, so bring a ruler?

The lawyers in IATF have no answer yet for that increasingly engineering sphere into which they’ve intruded. For now their concern is to pack more passengers into trains, buses, jitneys. People need rides to work, the lawyers argued; the economy must restart.

But to stay safe from the coronavirus, keep those face masks and face shields on, the lawyers prescribed. And no mobile calls or coughing or talking during public rides, or else.

People are confused. In lines at train, bus and jitney stands they strictly must stay on the painted floor markers one meter apart. One can get apprehended for violation. Before getting on they must alcohol-wash their hands and have temperatures taken. But once aboard they must sit closer to squeeze in other riders. Then when they alight at the grocery store, pharmacy or office, they must revert to the one-meter-or-more rule.

Suppressing a cough or a mobile chat is doable. But how does one say, “Mamang tsuper, eto po ang bayad ko” or “Para na, sa kanto lang po” without opening the mouth inside the jitney? Buzzers and beep cards can only work so much.

Where’s the science in the reduced spacing? The World Health Organization advises one meter to avoid catching or spreading the COVID-19 virus. Some countries require wider gaps. In Germany the rule is 1.5 meters. In America that goes by the English system, it’s six feet or 1.8 meters. In Britain the two-meter rule is criticized as overacting. In Denmark that two meters officially was halved, but still observed in some establishments. There’s no hard and fast protocol. Like if nutritionists recommend a plate of veggies a day, it means to eat more fiber than red meat and carbo per meal. A doctor’s advice is not needed to keep a distance from sick persons. The WHO has prescribed one meter since the 1930s. Whether asymptomatic or feverish, a person with COVID-19 expels droplets when talking, singing, sighing, coughing and sneezing. The droplets carry the virus that another person conversing or just passing by can catch.

Infectees must self-quarantine. Healthy folk going out must wear masks, said to reduce likelihood of contagion by 65 percent, and face shields, 85 percent. Combining mask and shield, plus frequent hand washing and safe distancing, protect by as much as 98 percent.

But gaps exist. Filipinos make do with homemade reusable masks and shields, not the expensive throwaway medical grades. In slums where shanties are cramped and with no indoor plumbing, frequent hand washing and distancing are impossible.

Still in many other instances there’s need to enforce discipline. Too, community lockdowns failed because unaccompanied by continuing ayuda, contact tracing and barangay quarantine facilities. There were also abuses by power-tripping cops and barangay watchmen.

Those factors required the combination of doctors, generals, lawyers, data scientists and economists. They overruled each other. In the chaos they somehow moved forward.

Recently the economists got their way and had the lockdowns loosened. People strived to resume their trades. C-19 infections surged. The doctors blamed it on the return to normal. The generals outshouted them, harrumphing it was due to DOH’s wrong prescription of home quarantine for asymptomatic cases and on family gatherings. The doctors piped down. Then it was the turn of the lawyers to rise.

The other week the lawyers told bus companies to lay off conductors and inspectors. After all, buses were being equipped with electronic payment systems, alcohol dispensers and thermal scanners. Bus owners complied. But there were passenger confusions over routes, stops and fares. The lawyers’ solution was for buses to have passenger relations officers. The owners rehired the conductors and inspectors under that new job title.

The doctors and generals complained to the media that they were either absent or not consulted when the decision was made to reduce safe distancing. Alarmed, the medical community warned of another spike in infections. Claiming they got medical advice too, the lawyers insisted that their shorter spacing be enforced. Still they acknowledged the resulting public confusion. Asked to referee their squabble last night was the President, also a lawyer.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/Amazon-Exposes

Paperback: https://tinyurl.com/Anvil-Exposes or at National Bookstores.

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