Better overall management, not just ‘stricter GCQ’

Published May 15, 2021, 12:15 AM

by Manila Bulletin

After more than six weeks of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and its modified version (MECQ), President Duterte has once again placed the National Capitol Region Plus area under a ‘stricter’ general community quarantine (GCQ) from May 15 to 31.

Recall that before the start of Holy Week, ECQ was imposed on what was then a newly created NCR Plus bubble.  This was on account of a rapid upsurge in COVID-19 infections that was attributed in part to the newly discovered variants originating overseas that had already been detected in the country.

By simply visiting the Department of Health’s COVID-19 tracker on the internet, Juan de la Cruz could find out for himself how the country is now faring in terms of containing the deadly pandemic.  During the latest reported seven-day period ending on May 13, the number of those who recovered jumped from 999,011 to 1,050,643 or an increase of 51,632.  This translates to a daily average of 7,376 recoveries.

In the same period, the number of deaths rose from 17,991 to 18,821 or an average of 119 deaths reported daily.  The number of daily recoveries is 62 times the number of daily deaths.

But mere number crunching would hardly mask the continuing woeful plight of millions of impoverished Filipino families who are hardest-hit by the pandemic.

Last May 10, the Philippine Statistics Authority confirmed what the citizenry already knew from the crucible of their daily ordeal.  The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.2 percent, the worst performance in the 10-nation ASEAN region.  The best performing economies in ASEAN are Vietnam, plus 4.5 percent, and Singapore, plus 0.2 percent.  Leaving out Singapore which is a city-state without the complexity of the Philippine’s geography and demography, perhaps a closer look at Vietnam whose economy grew by 4.5 percent might provide relevant insights.

The key to Vietnam’s effective COVID-19 containment strategy is its strong health infrastructure.  From lessons taught by its experience with previous outbreaks, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2003, Vietnam prioritized health assurance over economic concerns. The military and public security organization worked closely with grassroots community organizations.

Targeted testing and extensive contact tracing, isolation and quarantining “up to third-tier contacts” were conducted in an exemplary manner. Focusing on high-risk suspected cases, Vietnam conducted only 350,000 tests in 2020; however, around 1,000 people per confirmed case were tested, “the highest ratio in the world.”  Most importantly, public buy-in was secured by open and transparent communication.

In sharp contrast, how highly would the Filipino people rate the performance of the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emergent Infectious Diseases?

Beyond announcing alternating phases of ECQ, MECQ, GCQ and MGCQ, the people are expecting a more aggressive and well-coordinated vaccine rollout, continuous systematic testing and contact tracing, and smarter measures for hastening the return to economic normalcy, as well as in-person schooling for the youth of the land.