Beyond MECQ: Focusing on what can be done better

Published April 30, 2021, 12:00 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Health professionals are understandably relieved that President Duterte has decided to extend until May 14 the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in the NCR Plus bubble that continues to bear the brunt of a raging pandemic.

While the pressure on hospitals’ critical care facilities has eased, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III points out that the NCR Plus bubble and the other provinces in Calabarzon and Central Luzon still account for nearly nine out every 10 new infections. During the Palace meeting last April 28 at which the President’s decision was announced, Duque said that 87 percent of all new cases reported on that day came from the three regions.

If this trend continues, then the containment of COVID-19 contagion would now have to be focused on the country’s top three regions that contribute nearly two-thirds of the country’s economic output.  NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon contribute 36.6 percent, 16.8 percent and 9.5 percent, respectively, or a total of 62.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

These figures underline the stark reality that economic recovery will continue to be hobbled by the health crisis unless smarter, more effective measures are adopted.  Previous attempts to “reopen the economy” have attained less than auspicious results. While public transport capacity has been curtailed severely, not enough efforts were implemented to provide daily wage earners and commuters with mobility alternatives. And while massive unemployment has spawned widespread hunger,  the government has not provided adequate social safety nets. The proliferation of community pantry initiatives shows that Filipinos have become more proactive in addressing their own pain points.

The third crisis – a learning crisis – is of course the prolonged shutdown of schools.  Pressure is now mounting for the lifting of the ban on in-person classes.  Before the pre-Holy Week upsurge that triggered the enforcement of the strictest ECQ in the NCR Plus bubble, only Metro Manila, four out of 146 cities, and four out of 81 provinces were not classified under the least restrictive Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ). The country can ill afford to see a further deterioration of the learning crisis.

The government needs to step up its efforts to reduce vaccine hesitancy. Today is the last day of World Immunization Week.  UNICEF Philippines reports that “in 2019, the Philippines was among the top nine countries with babies that had not received a single vaccine against preventable disease” thereby placing Filipino children “under increased risk of infections that can cause paralysis or even death, such as polio and measles.”  This malady has apparently affected Filipino adults, prompting Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion to raise the possibility of mandatory vaccination of workers.

Secretary Carlito Galvez, the target is to achieve a peak efficiency of 500,000 vaccine jabs a day by August.  A similarly ambitious target is the delivery of 121 million doses from July to December. Simulations are now ongoing with private sector assistance that could hopefully accelerate the vaccine rollout.

Meantime, let’s fasten our seatbelts.