Beyond ECQ: Ramp up testing and tracing, hasten vaccination

Published March 30, 2021, 12:08 AM

by Manila Bulletin

On the eve of the Holy Week observance, President Duterte placed Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest quarantine status, from March 29 to April 4.  This was prompted by a surge in COVID-19 infection: the number of new cases daily is inching toward the 10,000 mark.  Four out of every five new cases are being reported in the NCR+ bubble area.

Initial feedback, as mirrored in social media tweets compiled by this paper, reflect disappointment on the part of the citizenry. Filipinos online vented their frustrations through the hashtags #DuterteResign and #DutertePalpak (“Duterte is a failure”). DuterteResign got at least 16,600 tweets on Saturday evening while the #DutertePalpak hashtag remained trending as of the morning of March 28 with at least 89,200 tweets.

While this may be far from being an unbiased snapshot of national sentiment, government should quickly come to terms with what needs to be done to check the latest spike.

The sharper focus on NCR+ bubble area is imperative as it is the epicenter of the pandemic.  In terms of new cases reported in the last two weeks, NCR accounts for 48,951 while 14,058 were registered in Calabarzon. Accounting for more than 80 percent of all the new cases in the country, these are the most densely populated areas where the most number of workplaces are located.

How does the government keep the economic engine humming while limiting the movement of people to check the upsurge of infection?

Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Joel Villanueva have proposed the ramping up of testing and contact tracing, especially in the workplaces.  Working people who may be asymptomatic are likely transmitters as they commute and mingle with co-workers coming from different places and are constantly exposed to possible infection.

The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 has proposed a practical four-point prevention campaign – Apat Dapat – using the four letters of the word Apat as guide.

First, “A – air circulation and ventilation: Maintain good ventilation in the room, at home, or in the places where people gather. It’s better to be outdoors to meet other people.”

Second, “P – Physical distance: Ensure distance of one meter or more from people not included in the house. Avoid areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained.”

Third, “A – Always use face mask and face shield: “Wear the face mask and face shield correctly especially when you are going out of the house and there are other people who will join you.

Fourth: “T – Time of interaction 30 minutes or less:  Avoid long socializing with other people. The longer you interact with other people, the greater your chances of getting infected with COVID-19.”

Apart from prevention, vaccination is imperative. The government needs to step up vaccine rollout and get more jabs into arms. It must convince the citizenry that our collective safety ultimately depends on massive vaccination.