The biggest casualty

Published April 7, 2021, 12:56 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

On Good Friday came the shocking news from the Department of Health (DOH) that the number of active COVID-19 cases for the day totalled 15,310. Many experts had predicted this would happen sooner than later, but its announcement on Good Friday only magnified the somber mood of the day that we Catholics commemorate, by tradition, the death of our Lord and Savior.

Make no mistake about it. This surge is unprecedented, and for many, is hitting closer to home. Entire families are getting infected, including young children, Frantic calls to government hotlines are mostly unanswered, leaving the afflicted to tend to themselves the best they can with the help of close relations and kind neighbors.

Hospitals have already reached full capacity, turning away patients whose relatives have resorted to driving to the nearest provinces in search of urgent medical care. The situation is aggravated by a shortage in nurses. Some patients, those who can afford to do so, have taken to hiring private nurses or caregivers to look after their loved ones. It is a luxury that is sadly unavailable to many, who die gasping for air, alone in makeshift tents.

In one hospital, almost the entire medical staff have tested positive for the virus, leaving it no option but to shut down its outpatient services. The same is being reported in several hospitals in Metro Manila. The president of the Philippine Hospital Association, asked in an interview if the country is losing the fight against COVID-19, answered, “Hindi po natatalo. Natalo na tayo (We are not losing the fight. We have lost”).

These are the wages of incompetence and poor management, of a rudderless, meandering pandemic response that is killing Filipinos by the thousands.

Apologists have taken to comparing our situation to some countries where the virus, they claim, has returned with a vengeance. We are not alone, they insist. They forget to mention that these countries have previously managed to control the infections and are expected to manage the surge with a degree of competence.

These apologists ignore the fact that in the Asia-Pacific region, we are the only country where the number of cases continue to rise. Other countries in the region are registering declining rates, while their economies are starting to exhibit signs of revival.

In our case, we have yet to surpass our first wave of cases. The economy is in recession and will be in this state for an extended period because, according to the World Bank, our government has relied too much on lockdowns.

It would be foolish for government to ignore the counsel of the World Bank. While government has displayed a predisposition to ignore advice from outsiders, even those considered experts in their respective fields, it would be in government’s best interest, and in the country’s, if it takes steps to address the concerns raised by the lending agency.

Unless these steps are taken with a degree of urgency and consistency, a repeat of this surge would be a foregone conclusion. But will our health system be able to deal with such a surge, and can the people, already hungry and jobless, endure another severe lockdown?

These surges are happening because government chose to re-open the economy too soon, even as it has failed in the past year to improve the health system’s capacity to respond, expand testing and tracing, and grabbed the first opportunity to purchase the vaccines when they were first offered.

Government re-opened the economy to save the economy, but the economy became the biggest casualty.

This surge is the outcome of government’s failure to confront its own failings and an outsized and delusional belief that it has been managing the pandemic excellently.

It is about time that accountability is exacted. Yet there are still some officials who choose to be blind to their own failings. By now, the Health Secretary should have grown a conscience and should do the most honorable thing and step down. But then we might be expecting too much.

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