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Dropping the ball

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2021 - 12:00am

It was a year ago when the President spoke of the contact tracing responsibility of local government units. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez proposed the two birds proposition of hiring up to 1.5 million displaced workers to become our “disease detectives.” Health Secretary Duque announced that the ideal WHO ratio (nationally) was at least 1 tracer for 800 persons.

Fast forward to today. Czar Benjamin Magalong concedes that contact tracing is an illusion. In urban areas where the ideal ratio is 1:37, in many cases tracing does not go beyond the household of the COVID-positive individual. Mayor Magalong admitted that in the two weeks before this last surge, the actual ratio was an inexplicable 1:3. The NATF has now officially lowered the ideal figure in urban settings to 1:15.

We don’t even have a statistic for who among the tested were contacts of a previous positive. In Thursday’s May 20 bulletin, of the 49,220 tested, how many were contacts?

Critical tracing capacity has long been a dream. Strong tracing mechanisms are essential to detect and stop virus clusters from exploding. The weakness of our tracing infrastructure is a preventable tragedy. Issues with the StaySafe tracing app (rolled out only last month!) and with LGUs are the challenges, according to this czar.

Review for possible amendment is part and parcel of the policy process. But we’ve been at this for over a year and we’re still at square one.

Rep. Joey Salceda referred to the 2020 lockdown as a wasted sacrifice due to the lack of testing and tracing. He cited data that when only 77,000 total tests were conducted, a mere 5,000 of them were of contacts. The bottom line is that tracing is a crucial part of the menu of interventions (another story) to help our economy bounce back.

By the numbers. We keep tabs of statistics. The positivity rate was at its lowest at 12.2 percent last May 11 and 12.5 percent May 12 (from a high of 25.2 percent at peak, last April 2). Reproduction number has dropped to 0.8 National and at NCR, 0.54. OCTA predicted last May 9 that NCR infections would drop to below 1,900 by May 14. They were off the mark – in a good way. NCR infections actually dropped to 1,479 by May 16.

With these figures plummeting, we’re happy. But it’s our tracing and testing numbers that should be skyrocketing, just as our vaccinations also go up. We’re now vaccinating at a rate of 108,540 daily. When we can manage at least 650,000 a day, we may get to herd immunity by the end of the year (hopefully, this one).

I’m sure that the proposal on vaccine passes was partly due to its incentivizing properties. Have vaccine, will travel! But there is a giant debate on the discriminatory effects of this policy. Prioritizing and stigmatization will be buzz words. Also, the science remains unclear on how virulent a vaccinated person can still be.

A few good men. We join the chorus applauding the elevation, finally, of PNP Chief Lieutenant General Guillermo T. Eleazar. By securing his appointment, Gen. Eleazar deodorizes the PNP and raises its profile. To be effective, police chiefs are supposed to strike fear into the heart of criminals. Gen. Eleazar is different. Under him, it’s the policemen themselves shaking in their boots.

The general’s crusading ways of transforming his organization: the public dressing downs, the spot checks, the respect for civil rights, among others, have long resonated with a public in search of better service from their civilian police force. It is fitting that he should preside over the implementation of the body-cam transparency policy. He is on record as guaranteeing the use of the devices in anti-illegal drugs operations, “at least during the implementation or service of search warrants.” He has also jacked up the PNP accountability quotient by rolling out an improved E-sumbong program. You’ve got to love the guy’s ethics: “Police should treat each concern from citizens as a direct order from me to respond quickly.”

Barely a week into his tenure, Gen. Eleazar’s bienvenida was another mis-encounter between QC Police and PDEA, reminiscent of the deadly January incident on Commonwealth Avenue. Eleazar immediately assured the public that any PNP personnel found breaching operational guidelines will be sanctioned.

Board 1. Eugene Torre, Asia’s first Chess Grandmaster is the first Asian to be inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame. Even to wood pushers with no chance at unravelling the mysteries of chess – like me, Torre was a national hero.

In the early 1970s, chess was an extension of the cold war. There was a hierarchy: Russians dominated the sport and America had Bobby Fischer. After them came the rest of the world. Even at that second echelon, Europe was first. Asia was nowhere near the chess superpower status it enjoys now. Into this exclusive club rose the 21-year-old Eugene with the apt surname, from a country without a history or culture of chess.

Eugene Torre, at his best, was seen as equal to the Russian grandmasters. Anatoly Karpov, Boris Spassky, Tigran Petrosian, Viktor Korchnoi, Mikhail Tal, Garry Kasparov were his regular fare. “Yevgeny” Torre, by any other name. Eugene Torre’s trailblazing in chess arguably empowered the Asian region on its path to the top. Today, China and India are 3rd and 4th in the world per FIDE country federations ranking.

With his induction into the World Hall of Fame, Eugene Torre takes his place among the immortals.

Kabang. The ambassadog of goodwill and symbol of responsible pet ownership is no more. This gentle canine reminded us of the different shapes and sizes of heroism. It’s fitting that his end comes as countries celebrate National Rescue Dog Day. Integral to Kabang’s story was the concept of rescue – whether the selfless act of throwing himself in harm’s way to protect the two girls or the notion of allowing another being into your space, thereby also saving yourself.

CARLOS DOMINGUEZ
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