Cebu model

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

It’s too early to tell if Cebu’s pandemic response is successful and worth trying for the entire country. But it has already gained attention at the national level. In fact, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to study what we are doing in Cebu.

This was after the president met with Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia on Monday night to discuss the protocols implemented by the Cebu provincial government on arriving overseas Filipino workers and returning Filipinos. Cebu’s protocols had the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) pouting and poking at Cebu with a large stick called “flight diversions”.

But Cebu has a so-called ace on its sleeve in questioning the IATF guidelines which has proved a burden on OFWs and their families. It’s the relatively successful Cebu model of COVID-19 response.

So, what is this so-called Cebu model of COVID-19 response? Simply put, it is controlling the pandemic while keeping the economy open. It is apparently working because Cebu’s numbers have been down lately.

Coming from a spike in cases in February and March, the island didn’t have to resort to community-wide lockdowns. That is because, so far, it has successfully tamed the infection’s spread.

Contrast that to other parts of the country outside the National Capital Region. Other provinces have been experiencing a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in the past three weeks. The recent high numbers in such places like Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Sur, northern Mindanao and the Davao region show one harsh thing about this pandemic: if people are lax in following health protocols, it would only be a matter of time before the numbers catch up with them.

The previous low numbers in the provinces were mainly due to their relative isolation from the population centers. Now with the spike in COVID-19 cases, these places are forced to adopt stricter community quarantine measures, leading to an economic slowdown. A lockdown should be a last resort as it never works in the long term because it will choke the economy to death.

So then, can the rest of the country take a page from Cebu’s playbook?

That question definitely deserves careful study by our national officials and those from other local governments. I say careful study because simply applying the Cebu model in another province or city may not work in their own milieu. What worked in Cebu may not work in other parts of the country.

Cebu’s relative success is, I think, a result of the government, private sector, and people working together to control the case numbers. It would have been excellent if we also have mass testing and comprehensive contact tracing, coupled with a massive vaccination drive. But we are largely dependent on the national government for testing kits and vaccine supply.

Yet Cebu managed to control its case numbers, with its utilization rate of ICU beds kept low for months now, because all three sectors coordinated and cooperated with each other: government, private sector, and people.

There is, for example, the Project Balik Buhay vaccination drive which is a public-private partnership initiated by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas. In the vaccination program, the private sector like malls, schools and the archdiocese opened their doors as spacious venues for vaccination that are also convenient and accessible to most people.

In most public places where there is economic activity, people can be seen wearing masks although physical distancing remains a challenge. Shops and offices have been redesigned to allow physical distancing. Service flow and processes have also been reformed in order to avoid crowding.

In a locality whose private sector is not as empowered and active as that of Cebu, the Cebu model of keeping economy humming while controlling the pandemic may not work. More so if the people barely raise a finger about government accountability, and are dependent on what the government can do for them most of the time because their leaders also foster such dependence and patronage in the first place.

We in Cebu may not exactly be the kind who fawn over our public officials and leaders most of the time. We are a noisy, complaining bunch, even. But we have proven time and again that we can work together with government during a crisis; that we can work with hard working public officials who have their ears on the ground.

That’s the Cebu model.

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