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Only way to go

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The President might just have been thinking aloud but when he told everyone that he would like for COVID testing to be given for free to Filipinos, he was actually verbalizing the only way to go!

Without making too much noise, a number of local governments have already conducted “limited” but free Covid testing using the “pool testing method” that was promoted by Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion. The system basically collects samples from 5 to 10 individuals and tests these altogether. If there is no “positive reaction” then all ten or five individuals are declared Covid-free. The method divides the cost to by 5 or 10 and even if a second test is required, the cost can still be reduced based on sampling and testing again. So the P5,000 standard will be P500 per person. If the saliva or breath based testing is approved by our FDA, the claim is that the individual cost will be P450 or less. If pooled testing is available for these tests, then the cost will be insignificant relative to protecting public health.

President Duterte should prioritize making Covid testing free for all Filipinos for many reasons. First, it gives authorities an added tool to find or isolate infected individuals. We would be taking the fight to Covid-19 instead of waiting for victims and infected persons to show up at hospitals, often when they are already highly infectious. Second, free testing will be a stress reliever for people who are anxious that they may have Covid-19 and free testing will reduce the pandemic of fear currently frightening and paralyzing people and businesses. Speaking of business, free testing will surely be a catalyst or an enabler for people and families to travel, especially for purposes of tourism. Ever since the Department of Tourism raised the green flag to reopen tourism, the response was disappointingly low because of the need for multiple tests and if you want to travel as a family of 3 or 4, the costs for current Covid tests will scalp you for P20,000 one-way and we are not even talking about cost to travel.

Not wishing to belabor the point, President Duterte was right on the money with the idea that is seven months too late. We only hope that PRRD can bring to life the program, considering the DOH and the Secretary of Health could not even act fast enough and radical enough to standardize the price of Covid tests. If local governments can shoulder the cost of testing selectively, one wonders why all Filipinos have to pay P5,000, no thanks to the DOH.

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Should the Bureau of Plants and the Department of Trade and Industry place the informal plant industry under surveillance and price monitoring? If you are not a Plantito or Plantita then chances are you are not aware of the blatant highway robbery and over-pricing being done by a number plant vendors online and on the ground. After checking out the plant scene, I have learned of the absurd and preposterous prices that these vendors are charging for plants that are so common you can get them in open fields, vacant lots or farming areas near or surrounding Metro Manila. A friend of mine who heard that I was looking for Sensation plants – those dark green leafy plants displayed in malls – told me that they cost between 2.5K to 3.5K. Two weeks later I drove by a provincial roadside vendor and picked up a pair for P400 each! Last week I passed by a mini mall where someone on a pop-up store was selling a small Monstera Deliciosa and she wanted 4.5K! As you go towards the exotic or rare varieties the prices go upwards from P6,000 to P30,000 for a plant! Of course many of these vendors don’t issue official receipts and probably don’t pay income tax because they are self-proclaimed small-time vendors.

This seeming act of highway robbery is not totally the fault of the vendors of course, because there are buyers willing to part with paper money in exchange for live plants they can collect and sit next to while living under Covid quarantine. Unfortunately, the fad has turned into madness and the ridiculous sums of money being charged are simply absurd. When some day workers who do “extra” work for me learned that I have been on the look out for creeping or climbing plants, the guys showed up the next day with sacks full of those alleged exotic plants. They literally pulled them out of an overgrown empty lot where Giant Pothos, Monstera and other bulb type plants grew extra large! For them these were weeds and vines and nothing more! If you are fortunate enough to go out of town where there are still a lot of tree covers, I suggest going for a stroll with a dull but stiff butter knife in your pocket. My little expeditions to these grove of trees or coconut plantations have produced sacks full of very common and numerous plant material. Just don’t be greedy and leave the mother plant so it can produce further generations.

I really want to encourage plant lovers to go on quests or set up trade or barter arrangements instead of throwing money at your new found hobby or passion. Be like the plant collectors of old who would go into forests or exchange material with each other. It becomes an adventure, takes effort and research and places added value to something you yourself sought out, collected and propagated. Don’t turn your “need” for plants into your “greed” for plants.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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