By ATTY. GREGORIO LARRAZABAL
“At this point, what is more important are lives, not money. We can make money again but life, once you lose it, it’s gone forever. So between life and money, I will choose life.” — Mr. Ramon Ang, President, San Miguel Corporation. On the extension of the Luzon-wide quarantine amid the COVID-19 pandemic
April 12, 2020, is the last day of the Luzon-wide quarantine/lockdown. It will be a month since most of the population, especially in the National Capital Region, has not reported to the office for work. Many are coping, making adjustments not only to their structured life, but also in the way they do business meetings. Zoom it seems, is one of the most popular apps now (be careful though. Zoom made an announcement last week that they’ll fix the bugs in their software).
The question now is what happens on April 13? Will the quarantine / lockdown be lifted, and people will go back to their daily lives, or as some health experts and citizens like myself have suggested, consider the extension of the lockdown, primarily because of health concerns? The quote above of Mr. Ramon Ang is an excellent reference on how best to approach the issue.
As background, the Philippines was one of the first Third World countries that declared a lockdown. I would have preferred the approach South Korea took to curb the virus, but considering the circumstances of the Philippines, the lockdown was a good decision. However, any sensible person knows that a lockdown or quarantine, by itself, CANNOT solve the problem. A necessary partner is the conduct of mass testing of citizens to provide the healthcare workers and experts the tools to combat the virus. In other words, plans which gives them DATA and ammunition on how to monitor and flatten the curve.
You can’t fight this virus simply with a wait-it-out approach. President Donald Trump tried that approach, and look how much of a mess the US is in today. The sad thing is when healthcare experts, healthcare workers, and concerned citizens voiced the concern that testing MUST be done, the response was an attack from on-line trolls and the condescending attitude of some “experts.”
But thankfully, people in charge listened. On April 14, the government will start mass testing. The details released last Thursday (I wrote this Thursday evening) are still sketchy. Some say it will just be the PUIs (person under investigation), PUMs (person under monitoring) who will be tested & frontliners. Some say it will be a broader approach. What’s important is that there’s more sense now in the approach in battling COVID-19. I have to say, I still wish the mass testing was done earlier, as healthcare experts have advised, but we are where we are, and we just have to make the most of the situation.
There are some sectors who are lobbying for the lifting of the lockdown. But lifting the quarantine/lockdown WHILE conducting mass testing simply does not make any sense. You test people, but don’t prevent them from going around the barangay, city, province, country? Might as well don’t have tests, because the people tested, if negative, will eventually interact with people who are positive, and get contaminated. Likewise, if someone tests positive, that person now will interact with people who don’t have the virus and infect them. It’s going to be a vicious cycle that will cost more lives and damage to the economy. Things can’t go back to normal without flattening the curve. Common sense will tell you that you can’t flatten the curve without having ACCURATE data to know what the curve is and where we are in the curve.
So what to do if and when the lockdown/quarantine is extended? Here are some things to consider:
- How to mitigate the effects on the economy. Everyone is talking about the big businesses and SMEs. Yes, those are essential to keep the country moving, but please don’t forget the daily wage earners. We must understand that mitigating the impact on the economy not only for the businesses, but more for those who rely on a daily wage to put food on their table. What happens when they become hungry and desperate? For the business sector, I’ve spoken with several small business owners. Many businesses are barely making ends meet, especially in the entertainment and hospitality (hotels and restaurants) industry. There are some who are already considering closing down to stop the bleeding. The gov’t has instituted some very good measures. Hope they continue do more, and hopefully it will get to those affected, sooner.
- How to maximize the quarantine by ramping up testing and social distancing/physical distancing. Without these, the lockdown is not as effective. DATA – You can’t solve the problem without accurate data to make the right projections and necessary planning. We can’t just wish it away. You need to face it to defeat it. Now we’re fighting a ghost. Every healthcare expert worth his salt will tell you that you need data to know how to fight COVID-19. Give them the tools to stop the virus and stop doctors and healthcare workers from dying.
People use “social distancing.” I think “physical distancing” may be more appropriate at this time. Remember, making the message understood is as equally important as the message itself. In this regard, the cooperation of the public is essential. The public HAS to follow rules on physical distancing and quarantine/lockdown.
- How people should prepare for the extended lockdown/quarantine. People need to prepare. Need to conserve your resources and supplies. Use that calendar to plan what to do. Schedule runs to the grocery & supermarket. Exercise at home to stay healthy.Use the time at home wisely.
ORGANIZE. As equally important too, is to be psychologically ready.