Reset on MECQ: Let’s get COVID containment priorities right

Published September 9, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

In a move that caught many by surprise, the government has extended the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila by another week.

The manner in which the announcement was made was as concerning as the message itself.  The presidential spokesperson finally announced the deferment after a few hours of putting reporters on hold, as the guidelines were still unavailable. In a pandemic, people expect — and deserve — to get clear-cut directions from their leaders at all levels.

Eighteen months after the first ECQ was enforced nationwide, is the country better prepared and more effective in containing the spread of the pandemic?

The rapid community transmission of the Delta variant prompted the imposition of ECQ, the harshest quarantine restriction, starting in mid-August. It came about as the government began to ramp up nationwide vaccination efforts. But government data show that despite a high number of apprehensions made by the police, mobility restriction was not as high.  Social gatherings have been tagged as a source of higher infection levels. The high transmissibility rate of the Delta variant has caused breakthrough infections among those that have been vaccinated and a perceptible increase in pediatric COVID cases.

Granular lockdown with four alert levels was announced as the new tack for attacking COVID-19’s continuing affliction. But on the eve of its expected start, the government could not issue the specific guidelines on how it would be implemented, citing the need “for additional inputs from the local government units (LGUs).”

Vaccination pace picked up during the last two weeks.  As of September 4, 18.7 million of 17.3 percent have been given at least one dose; those fully vaccinated have reached 15.1 million or 14 percent.  According to Vaccination Czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., the country’s daily vaccination rate was at 426,653 as of 1 August, with 1,743 active vaccination sites operating across 17 regions nationwide.  The government targets to vaccinate 70 percent or 77,139,058 Filipinos out of the country’s 110,198,654 total population in order to achieve population protection by yearend.

For this target to be attained in the remaining 114 days of the year, the daily vaccination rate would have to be ramped up to 544,000. At the current rate of vaccination, it would take until the end of January 2022 for the goal of community protection to be attained, assuming of course that there would be adequate vaccine supplies.

Vaccination is still the most effective antidote to the pandemic. This is why fake news and disinformation should be dispelled in order to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

Whatever form of quarantine or lockdown is eventually implemented, the basics remain the same. Targeted testing must be done intensively in communities and workplaces to assure early detection. Contact tracing, despite the continuing absence of a universally accepted mobile app, would have to be done efficiently.

The health care system’s capacity must be strengthened; the 2022 national budget is the best place to start. Even as the country gears for the start of a political campaign early next year, our leaders must continually seek effective solutions for tackling the pandemic.