Guinea pigs?

Published September 8, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

The month of September is considered as the start of the Christmas season in our country, but there seems to be little reason for many of us to be cheerful as we used to be before the pandemic. Whatever remains of our holiday spirit is being dragged down by the persistence of disconcerting news and developments related to the pandemic, and the realization that the situation is expected to get worst before we experience a semblance of relief.

The current surge in COVID-cases is inflicting pain and suffering on more families than a similar surge last year. And it has not shown any signs of dissipating. The latest projections are dreadful, with 30,000 and even as high as over 40,000 cases seen by the end of September.

Obviously, this was not what senior government officials and some of their glib-tongued advisers had in mind when they declared in March that this year’s Christmas will be better than the last. A semblance of normality, they said, will be seen by September, when the economy will begin picking up. By that time, government would have made considerable progress in its push to vaccinate as many people are needed to achieve “population protection.” The assurance was repeated in June.

Look where we are now.

Ever since the pandemic began in March last year, government officials have acquired the habit of over-promising. Some may see this as the equivalent of over-compensating, especially when government officials are in dire need to project a semblance of control and efficiency.

The vaccines did not arrive in the promised numbers, and the percentage of those fully vaccinated is still far from the target. Vaccine purchases made by the private sector and local governments made months ago are still pending approval by the national government’s task force, much to the dismay of several legislators who have called for an investigation into the causes of the delay.

The arrival of the Delta variant was also a contributing factor, although health authorities cannot say they were caught unaware. Other countries took drastic steps to immediately contain the variant, the most infectious so far. In contrast, our Health Secretary responded to this threat the same way he approached the Wuhan variant. He sat on his hands until the cases started piling up. By that time, it was too late to contain the virus.

Yet despite the surge that we are experiencing, government announced that lockdown restrictions will be eased in Metro Manila, and a new approach, granular lockdowns, will be implemented in the capital region. The approach is experimental, government admits. Officials maintain that this is more effective than regional or province-wide lockdowns, without offering any evidence which we can parse.

This early, doctors and independent experts are skeptical and worried about the efficacy of granular lockdowns. In other countries, granular lockdowns are resorted to when cases are low. During a surge in cases, the proper strategy, they maintain, is to prevent the virus from further spreading while working to improve the capability of the health system. This means restricting movements for a certain period. The granular lockdown experiment is not only counter-intuitive. It defies common sense.

As of this writing, no guidelines have been released by the proper authorities. What we know is that as a general principle, the mayors of Metro Manila will be given the discretion to determine which areas to be placed under lockdown, the severity of the lockdown, and what types of businesses will be allowed to operate. The mayors will be guided by pandemic advisories from the Department of Health.

So far, no mention has been made whether the national government will provide cash or economic relief to residents in areas placed under granular lockdowns, or if the local governments are expected to provide “ayuda.”

For residents of Metro Manila, it seems we have been consigned to the status of guinea pigs in another national government experiment. Welcome to a “better” Christmas 2022.

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