Here comes the shift

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Just two COVID cases and a street will be placed under a hard lockdown, with no one allowed to leave their homes.

A few APORs or authorized persons outside residence such as health frontliners and security forces may leave their homes, but will not be allowed to return for the duration of the granular lockdown, which is up to 14 days.

The rules are just as tough for condominium buildings, where viruses can be locked in and circulate in elevators and along hallways: just one COVID case can prompt a hard lockdown of an entire floor.

Presumably, the rules for locking down streets cover only one long block or a few short ones. This is because there are streets that can be several blocks long, and the local government unit will have to provide the basic necessities of the residents: food, drinking water, perhaps medicine. Can LGUs afford 14 days of this for all affected households?

As of Wednesday night, the word from the government was that LGUs are free to tweak the hard lockdown rules in the pilot-test of the storm-type alert level system paired with granular lockdowns in Metro Manila.

Pateros is pinning yellow ribbons on houses with COVID cases. I can see human rights and privacy complaints springing from this yellow-tagging. Also, does the color choice have political undertones?

San Juan is instead emphasizing the positive, by posting “100% fully vaccinated” stickers on qualified establishments.

Alongside the granular lockdowns is the easing of restrictions on certain economic activities.

Doctors and other health workers under the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 are aghast that restrictions are being eased “at a time when we face the worst surge of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines.”

The average daily COVID cases nationwide in the seven days through Sept. 15 stood at a high 21,287, with 21,261 new cases logged yesterday.

*      *      *

On the other hand, those in the enterprises that have been allowed to resume operations in the pilot area are of course glad: the tourism sector, dining establishments, personal grooming services.

Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat of the Department of Tourism told “The Chiefs” last Wednesday on OneNews that all hotels and tourist destinations such as Fort Santiago need DOT accreditation for compliance with COVID safety protocols, so visitors can feel safe.

There are also dining establishments that have asked for a DOT seal of COVID safety. So people reluctant to return to restaurants might want to look for these safety seals.

The easing of restrictions, however, is still not enough for certain businessmen. Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., president of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, told The Chiefs that the capacity limits under Metro Manila’s Alert Level 4 would make reopening a losing proposition for many small and medium enterprises, especially those paying rent in commercial centers.

He’s guessing that to make reopening viable, there are entrepreneurs who may not follow the capacity limits. This can be easy, considering the weak capability of the government to enforce the limits. There could be arguments on what constitutes 10 or 30 percent of capacity in a beauty salon, for example.

*      *      *

There is disagreement even within the business community on the “bakuna bubbles” being pushed by presidential adviser on entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.

One side argues that until enough vaccines have been administered, restricting the movement of the unvaccinated would be discriminatory.

Concepcion’s answer to this is that even the vaccinated can be carriers of the COVID virus, so preventing the mingling of the jabbed with the unjabbed would actually protect the unvaccinated from infection. He argues that entrepreneurs also have a right to earn a living and resume their businesses.

The virulence of Delta, unfortunately, threw a monkey wrench into this argument. Even fully vaccinated people are still avoiding establishments where they might catch COVID, fearing that they might bring Delta with them to their home and infect vulnerable members of the household.

With Delta infecting even minors, the government hastily withdrew the easing of restrictions on adolescents. Without the kids (and the lolos and lolas, vaccinated or not), family outings and dining in are out.

Concepcion told The Chiefs that the government can’t keep resorting to lockdowns with each monkey wrench tossed in by new COVID variants.

Healthcare workers say tighter restrictions are necessary only when the variants are as virulent as Delta, or the Alpha and Beta that caused last summer’s deadly surge. Gamma, Lambda, the Philippine variant P.3 and the latest, Mu, have not prompted tighter restrictions.

*      *      *

Ortiz-Luis and the healthcare workers agree on one thing: lockdowns won’t work unless accompanied by aggressive COVID testing and contact tracing.

On these two critical components of the pandemic response, unfortunately, the government has dropped the ball. COVID testing is such a luxury that people are faking test results. Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, the contact tracing czar himself (is he resigned, OIC, acting czar? Does Malacañang care?) has said contact tracing in the country is a disaster.

Ortiz-Luis is urging the government to provide free testing and suspend privacy laws to facilitate contact tracing. If mass testing is conducted in an area placed under granular lockdown, it would make up for the weakness of contact tracing.

He stresses that hospitals should get timely reimbursement of their claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. The PhilHealth reimbursement is needed, Ortiz-Luis points out, so hospitals can finance the expansion of their capacities for isolation and treatment, as well as offer better remuneration so they can hire more healthcare workers instead of seeing their exodus.

Without a corresponding ramp-up of health care capabilities, Ortiz-Luis is skeptical about the usefulness of lockdowns in general. He also notes that lockdowns work in countries such as Singapore where those affected don’t need ayuda.

There are also many areas in Metro Manila where residents won’t need ayuda in case of a granular lockdown. But will the hard lockdown be enforced in such areas? Will large houses and high-end condominium buildings be placed under hard lockdown, with no one allowed to leave the premises for up to 14 days?

As of yesterday, there was no flip-flopping on the pilot-test of the policy shift by Malacañang, whose decision-making has lately been swinging wildly.

The devil will be in the implementation of the policy shift.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with