Beating COVID-19: Going beyond quarantine

Since March 2020, there have been twice-a-month announcements by the government on the quarantine classification of regions, cities and towns.  The Presidential Spokesman announced that an “improving” COVID-19 scenario in the National Capital Region (NCR) prompted a downgrade to normal general community quarantine (GCQ).

Well and fine, thank you.

Yet, even the latest announcement was highly qualified.  Seven cities in Metro Manila reported an uptick in new cases --- a disturbing development in light of the emergence of more lethal coronavirus variants. Not to worry, we continue to be assured: the overall level of threat has gone down.

Moreover, the local government units (LGUs) have demonstrated an improved capacity to handle the health crisis,  and the carrying capacity of the public health system is adequate.  There are more than enough hospital beds and critical care facilities.  Health front liners are not over burdened.  Government will continue to monitor closely testing and contact tracing efforts to ensure that community transmission is controlled.

But wait, isn’t it imperative to take a broader view?

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the other day that “more dangerous variants of COVID-19 could tear across the world as global infections soared to half a million daily, largely driven by the virulent Delta strain.”

The widening of digital divides within and between countries continues unabated as more day-to-day activities are being performed online: from formal education to household grocery shopping; from business negotiations to birthday parties, school homecomings and family reunions.

Whatever happened to the much vaunted “whole-of-society” and “whole of government” approach that government trumpeted at the onset of the pandemic?  While science rules the day in terms of analyzing the status of the contagion, zealous efforts to stem its transmission must involve a broader coalition of stakeholders.

Researchers and scientists belonging to the National Academy of Science and Technology affirmed this important principle at the close of their annual scientific meeting last July 15.

They proposed the following vital measures: first, “build resilience against biological and environmental threats, and ensure that the food system is dedicated to improving the health and nutrition of consumers;” second, promote both conservation and sustainable use of natural resources because of its significant impact on the food system, biodiversity, natural products development, and prevention of transmission of zoonotic diseases;” and third, set up state-of-the-art laboratories in virology to detect the emergence of viral variants through genomic surveillance.

Another important recommendation was to ensure the continuity of learning using digital and other flexible learning methods --- a most timely proposal considering that the new school year will reopen on September 13, 2021 as approved by the President yesterday.

And yes, wait till the business and industrial sectors flex their muscles anew in light of the announcement of Fitch’s Ratings last July 12 that it was downgrading from Stable to Negative its outlook on the Philippines.  This is based on its assessment of the government’s capability to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Isn’t it time to look beyond quarantine classification?