The fault of one – the fault of all
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2020 - 12:00am

According to latest reports, the current problem areas as far as COVID-19 cases are concerned are primarily what I refer to as The Corona Trinity: mainly Metro Manila, Batangas province and Tacloban City. All three are categorized as under General Community Quarantine while most of the country is already under a more relaxed classification. A closer look at the three areas points to the fact that they are as different from each other in terms of population, land area, urban sprawl or accessibility. But what they have in common is the persistent “high” cases of COVID-19. Metro Manila being composed of 16 cities and one municipality has the biggest area in terms of urban sprawl and population. Batangas province is equally far and wide in terms of territory but has less people but serves as the gateway for agricultural, commercial and industrial goods coming in through its own port as well as on land. Tacloban City is the smallest of the three in terms of area and population but is the go to place for medical and commercial needs in their region.

As far as downgrading or reducing COVID-19 cases go, Metro Manila’s chances are slim to none because people here have simply been clumped into one group, no distinction in terms of borders, or containment of COVID-19 between cities. If Metro Manila were a forest or a wide field of grass, what’s happening is the government is fighting an endless battle of treating COVID-19 cases that keeps reappearing in different cities or a municipality because residents and workers are free to travel within Metro Manila. As a result we are simply recording, tracing and treating cases but not containing the spread within specific cities. The spread of COVID-19 has become as common as the spread of the common cold but with deadly or costly results. We make note of improvements in local management but not enough to point out who is really doing a good job and who is not managing well in terms of geographical or border control of COVID-19 on a city by city basis.

What’s happening is “the fault of one is the fault of all.” The entire NCR is penalized and placed under General Community Quarantine because of the sum total number of cases. So even if a city or several cities achieve Covid-free status, they remain under GCQ because they are part of the NCR or Metro Manila. In fact they can’t be Covid-free as long as people can go in and out unchecked. As the kids say nowadays: Sucks to be you! Sadly the same has happened for the province of Batangas. The commercial and economic pressure is so strong that the province and its economic zones and factories have to stay open amidst the threat and spread of COVID-19. Adding to the complication is the fact that Batangas is 45 minutes away from Metro Manila so infections have become part of the scenario, since many people travel between the two points for work or for home.

Being under perpetual quarantine is the price we pay for opening the economy but failing to implement containment strategies and leaving the solutions to the private sector is not going to solve the problem. Early on, we have suggested that companies must be assisted by the government into creating production facilities that have dormitories or housing where workers can live/stay on a monthly basis and be screened with RT-PCR tests. This is what a number of private companies are already doing. Whether we like it or not, a similar strategy will have to be implemented in over-populated and congested barangays where ALL residents need to be tested, contained and managed as well as provided with ample daily needs and finances. One of our readers/viewers suggested that the government should institute a policy that all families should be tested for Covid as a precondition to receiving SAP subsidy. I think that before we start giving out subsidies to businesses, let’s spend the available funds to test people first. Given the pooled testing concept, we can now do it in a very affordable manner. Perhaps it’s about time that we split Metro Manila and Batangas province into halves or fourths for better border control and disease management.

The problem of Tacloban City, according to Mayor Alfred Romualdez, has to do with the fact that the only big government hospital in their region or province, the Eastern Visayas Regional hospital, is in Tacloban City. As a consequence all the Covid positive or suspected cases end up being tested, determined and recorded as a statistic in the city. It’s like sensational news stories that happen in an area but when the article is printed, the press often places the name of the nearest or most recognizable city or town on the heading or dateline. In addition, the regional hospital is under the DOH and the national government, so Tacloban City can only put its foot down if there is a direct threat to the citizens of the city. In the latest incident, Mayor Romualdez nearly popped an artery in anger when he found out that an ambulance from another locality sent all its patients in one ambulance to save time and money. As a result the non-Covid patients were exposed to Covid positive individuals. Clearly there is also a need to make a distinction on who should get the Covid score as far as reporting goes because it is unfair to cities or municipalities who do their best to fight the spread of the virus but end up with stained reputations simply by association or general location.

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