Challenge now is to make ECQ work

Published July 31, 2021, 12:20 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


People have a lot of questions about the government’s Friday announcement that Metro Manila would again be placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine from August 6 to 20.

ECQ is the toughest and most painful type of quarantine since 2020, and thus not easy to forget.  We don’t want a repeat of the unnecessary hardship, terrible economic impact on families, and the absence of public health measures that medical experts have told us would make such a quarantine effective.

There’s no dispute that the government has the power to declare a public health emergency and to place any part of the country under a lockdown due to an epidemic. But with such awesome power comes the obligation to make sure that the lockdown is truly a public health response through mass testing, tracing, treatment and vaccination. At the same time, the government should provide the public and small businesses with aid to cover the lockdown period.

Since the ECQ is supposedly aimed at containing the further spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, people are asking — and demanding — a concrete plan from the Duterte government on mass testing, tracing, treatment and vaccination. Without these, the quarantine would not meet its target of containing the highly-infectious Delta variant.

There should be mass testing in Metro Manila, starting with all areas where there have been reported COVID-19 Delta variant cases. At the very least, all the persons who came into contact with persons found to be COVID-19 Delta variant-positive should be tested, period. Anything less would make the ECQ a joke.

Instead of deploying massive numbers of soldiers and policemen to enforce the ECQ, the government should recruit and mobilize tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to conduct testing, tracing, treatment and vaccination in Metro Manila. Besides, the recent report of dozens of NCRPO cops testing positive for the coronavirus proves that these law enforces are not immune from the virus and they could spread it to people. All soldiers and policemen should be sent to barracks or to their stations, and likewise covered by ECQ restrictions.

Instead of seeing generals and retired generals on top of the situation, there should be a health and scientific experts calling the shots. The militarist, and police-state mindset and measures have not solved the problem. By now, we could argue that the generals and retired generals dominating the pandemic response have failed. Let’s press government to put health and scientific experts  to take the lead in this latest pandemic response, and also give seats at the table to workers, farmers, transport workers, professionals and small businesses.

The government now has about a week to ensure that “ayuda” is given to the people and MSMEs of Metro Manila. Aid should be adequate, timely and “Epal”-free. Government has an obligation to protect and assist minimum wage earners, informal sector workers, and essential workers. Same is true with MSMEs, whose proprietors could be losing their minds finding ways to generate businesses and create employment — only to be thwarted by an ECQ without aid to them.

Even prior to the declaration of an ECQ over Metro Manila, the think tank Ibon has reported that there’s growing unemployment and underemployment, and the permanent closure of small businesses in an epic scale. Citing government’s own figures, Ibon said that majority of families nationwide no longer have any savings left.  The lockdown declaration should really be accompanied by massive aid for people and small businesses.

Government has said that mass vaccination drives would continue under ECQ. This however requires public transportation to connect our people to the vaccination centers. For the love of anything sacred, the government should finally allow all jeepneys to ply their routes again. They’re open-air, well-ventilated and thus safer than air-conditioned vehicles. Plus, we give back to jeepney drivers their livelihood.

We have an appeal to our privileged kababayans. I’m referring to those who live in spacious homes, can afford to comfortably work at home, have savings to sustain them for months or years, and have cars to conveniently bring them wherever they want to go. It is not an appeal to stop flaunting privilege. It is an appeal to wield privilege to advocate for the majority who live in cramped dwellings, who need to go to work, have no savings, and have no public transport ready to serve them.

“We are in this together” is a better message than “you’re on your own.”