Ayuda, vaccine queues COVID super spreaders

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2021 - 12:00am

By all indications, another surge of cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection may likely develop in the next two weeks in the National Capital Region (NCR). This has nothing to do with the possible impact of the downgrading of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), or hard lockdowns implemented during the past two weeks.

It was upon the recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to reimpose the ECQ from March 31 to April 11 in the entire Metro Manila comprising the NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal following resurgence of COVID-19 cases recorded in these areas.

After the two-week ECQ, President Duterte approved the IATF decision to downgrade the hard lockdowns in the so-called NCR Plus to modified ECQ effective April12 until the end of this month. Again, the decision-making is based on science and data that are always adverted by the IATF in the evaluation of community quarantine impositions.

Other than science and data, a likely resurgence again of COVID-19 cases, however, looms in the next two weeks. This we shall see after the latest “ayuda,” or cash subsidy in the ECQ-impacted areas, winds down. Up to now, we still see crowding of people in apparent dis-organized distribution of the latest “ayuda.” The long lines of people waiting for hours to get their cash subsidy in sweltering summer heat defy all minimum health protocols to prevent local transmissions of COVID-19 infection.

The same situation is replicated even at the anti-COVID vaccination sites nationwide. Supposedly, the local government units (LGUs) undertook simulation exercises not only to ensure the efficacy of the anti-COVID vaccines is not compromised but also to protect both the vaccinators and the vaccinees. But these precautionary measures are not strictly observed on the ground.

We saw historical spreader events during the past two months from a string of national holidays starting with Chinese Lunar New Year to Valentine’s Day and EDSA-1 anniversary last February. In the apparent aftermath of long holiday weekends we had, the numbers of COVID-19 cases started picking up in late March, the bulk coming from the NCR Plus areas. This does not include yet the national holiday we just observed during the Araw ng Kagitingan last April 9 (Friday) that gave us another long weekend.

Other than these non-working holidays, the super spreader event that would likely cause another round of surge in COVID-19 cases at the NCR Plus areas is how these LGUs distributed the latest “ayuda” to their respective residents. The latest “ayuda” though is much less than the original Social Amelioration Program (SAP) under the Bayanihan: We Heal As One Law, or Republic Act (RA) 11469.

Under the Bayanihan-1 that lapsed in June last year, each qualified family got at least P5,000 up to P8,000 during the two months of nationwide ECQ at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. The amount varied, depending on the prevailing regional minimum wage rates and other subsidy programs in cash or in-kind distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reported a total release of P199.975 billion to the DSWD to fund the SAP. The DSWD, in turn, downloaded the SAP distribution to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) as the direct supervising agency for LGUs all over the country. The SAP targeted as many as 18 million households nationwide, including 4.4 million households as existing beneficiaries of the expanded Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). Non-4Ps beneficiaries of the SAP were supposed also to receive the full amount of SAP.

The 18th Congress again approved another cash subsidy called Bayanihan-2: We Recover As One to cover low-income families in areas placed under “granular lockdowns” that IATF adopted starting Sept. 13 last year. The Bayanihan-2 were given the same amount of emergency cash subsidy under SAP-1, regardless of the number of times that their area has been declared under granular lockdown, and regardless of any extension in the declared lockdown.

Following the reinstatement of ECQ in the NCR Plus, President Duterte ordered another cash subsidy to the families living in the affected areas. DBM Secretary Wendel Avisado scraped the bottom of the barrel to give out ECQ-impacted Filipinos P1,000 each of “ayuda,” up to a maximum of four people per family. The DBM chief was able to scrounge as much as P22.9 billion of still un-used funds from the Bayanihan 2.

Now leaders of the 18th Congress have drawn up another cash subsidy to help Filipinos cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Avisado told us during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay Zoom Webinar last week, the DBM has drafted a proposed Executive Order for the approval of President Duterte to impose “austerity measures” in order to raise funds for the proposed Bayanihan-3 bill. Avisado proposed the use of savings out of the austerity measures on “non-essential” items available under the maintenance and other operating expenses in the 2021 budget instead of incurring more foreign loans to support the anti-COVID program of the national government.

But trying to shepherd resources to address the problems and challenges related to national efforts to control the spread of the pandemic will all be futile if we keep seeing people being exposed to the risks of COVID-19 infection as they try to get their cash subsidies and line up for vaccines.

The “ayuda” was meant to tide over Filipinos adversely affected by the lockdown restrictions during the ECQ period.

The hard lockdown coinciding with the Holy Week and extended for another week could be credited to the slowing down of the sudden spike of total COVID-19 cases in our country.

But by making people line up for hours to get the “ayuda” and vaccines at the mercy of incompetent LGUs is utter disregard of such potential COVID super spreader risks to all.

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