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Opinion

Pre-emptive actions only now?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

For the nth time, President Rodrigo Duterte reversed the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). A week before the quarantine classification lapsed last July 31, the IATF recommended to keep Metro Manila under the General Community Quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions until Aug.15.

When the latest IATF recommendation reached the desk of President Duterte, the National Capital Region (NCR) along with the province of Iloilo, were placed back instead under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), a euphemism for hard lockdown.

From July 1 to 15, the entire NCR was placed under GCQ with heightened restrictions. Initially, the IATF was ready to put NCR under regular GCQ from July 16 to 31. The IATF, co-chaired by Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, endorsed this recommendation to President Duterte.

Justifying the President’s reversal of IATF, Nograles told a TV interview last Monday: “If we do not do the ECQ, we might see the (COVID) cases going beyond 30,000 per day. So ECQ is important to keep it at the lower limit.” Nograles admitted the IATF is looking at a much lower threshold of 18,000 per day. Hopefully, he explained, the ECQ would help stave off the Delta variant becoming the predominant type of COVID-19 infection until the vaccination among vulnerable sectors such as senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities is also “ramped up.”

For the past four days, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded more than 8,000 cases of confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection. Last Monday, there were 8,167 reported new COVID-19 cases. Thus, the total COVID-19 cases in the Philippines rose to 1.6 million while the death toll stood at 28,093 fatalities. The case fatality rate of COVID-19 though remains at 1.75 percent.

However, the number of infections and fatalities per day in our country are increasing again after sustained declines from the immediate period, DOH Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire warned. This is why, Vergeire cited, the government opted to take pre-emptive actions to prevent another wave of COVID-19 cases. This is especially alarming in the light of cases of some of the 20 million or so Filipinos who already got their first, if not second dose of anti-COVID vaccines, but still contracted COVID-19 infection.

Thus, it was no wonder the Chief Executive reversed anew the IATF after the Metro Manila Mayors – supported by businessmen’s groups and even by the Cabinet economic team – all agreed to support at least two-week ECQ at the NCR to stop the feared spread of this COVID-19 Delta variant that been causing so many deaths in India where it originated.

The DOH assuaged earlier there is no evidence yet of any community transmission of Delta variant despite the 216 cases so far detected here. Of this total, 48 confirmed Delta variant cases were overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who flew back home and returning Filipinos coming from trips abroad and the rest were local transmissions.

The Philippines experienced the first surge due to the Alpha variant, or the COVID-19 mutation traced from the United Kingdom. It was during March this year when the COVID-19 pandemic started to worsen anew when daily recorded cases went into five-digit numbers. On April 2, the country recorded the highest single day at 15,310 COVID cases.

Upon the IATF recommendation, President Duterte first re-imposed ECQ at the NCR. Along with neighboring Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – collectively called the NCR Plus – the ECQ took effect from March 29 to April 4 and later extended one week more up to April 11.

Statistical studies done by OCTA Research showed the average new daily cases of COVID-19 dropped to “40 percent or less” in NCR Plus following the implementation of ECQ during that period. They credited such decline to government interventions, citing the imposition of ECQ measures “were effective in slowing the growth of the pandemic.”

These were enough considerations for President Duterte, after convening his regular IATF meetings at Malacanang, to subsequently downgrade the entire NCR Plus to modified lockdown (MECQ) from April 12-30 and extended up to May 15.

With the downtrend of COVID-19 cases sustained, the President agreed with the IATF to place the NCR Plus and other areas to a more relaxed GCQ again but with “heightened restrictions” from May 15-31. Amid reports of rising deaths due to a new COVID-19 strain called Delta variant at that time, the NCR Plus remained under GCQ “with heightened restrictions” during the entire month of June. The entire Metro Manila enjoyed shorter curfew hours from 12 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The IATF further gradually eased some of the lockdown restrictions starting July 8 when children as young as five years old were finally allowed to go outdoors so long as they are residing in areas placed under GCQ and MGCQ. At the same time, fully vaccinated senior citizens were also permitted to go outdoors provided they still follow the minimum health protocols set by the IATF.

The World Health Organization (WHO) called out the Philippine government on the sluggish COVID-19 vaccination rate among senior citizens. The WHO warned that a slow vaccine rollout would be dangerous especially to this vulnerable group most likely to get hospitalized, and possibly overwhelm the country’s health care system, and worse, cause more deaths due to this fast-spreading Delta variant.

To quote the government’s favorite buzzword “ramped up,” what needs to be explained at this point is the seeming panic mode to re-impose the hard lockdown in the NCR? All this time we have been told by the IATF officials that the government have “ramped up” all its counter measures and facilities to more than cope with the exponential increase anew of COVID cases due to Delta variant.

Is there something more serious that the government is not telling us?

Why take such pre-emptive actions only now when there are Delta cases already detected here?

IATF PRESIDENT DUTERTE
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