Here we go again?

Published January 5, 2022, 12:04 AM

by Former Senate President Manny Villar

OF TREES AND FOREST

Former Senate President
Manny Villar

Let me start by greeting everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope everyone had a nice and safe holiday break with loved ones and family. And I hope all of us are recharged to face the challenges of the new year. Let us make 2022 a rebound year.

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The number we usually focus on after the New Year’s Eve celebrations is the number of injuries due to firecracker accidents. But this year is a bit different. While we continued our monitoring of firecracker injuries, we were very concerned about the rising number of daily cases of COVID-19. And true enough, there were only 85 injuries arising from firecracker mishaps while there were 3,617 new COVID cases recorded during the first day of 2022.

As a result, government placed Metro Manila—the epicenter of the current surge—on a much stricter Alert Level 3. This essentially means that certain activities will be limited in an attempt to curb the upward trajectory of daily cases. For instance, dine-in services as well as salons and barbershops will be limited to 30% occupancy while it will be 50% for outdoor seating.

This would translate to more misery for micro and small entrepreneurs who were just recovering from the losses of the previous lockdowns. Business was brisk during the final quarter of 2021 after government eased restrictions. You can just see it in the amount of foot traffic in malls and in many public places. Many more Filipinos traveled to local tourist destinations, families got together for the first time in a long time, and Filipinos enjoyed a sense of normalcy.

And who can blame the public? After months of being virtually trapped in their own homes and not being able to do what they normally do, people were understandably excited about going out, meeting up with friends and well, actually, just walking around. I am sure it was such a liberating experience for many, not just physically but also psychologically. And it was the right thing to do. We could not have possibly survived a more prolonged lockdown.

Opening up the economy most probably contributed to the current increase in daily infections we are experiencing but a lot of it may also be due to the highly contagious Omicron variant which is also ravaging other parts of the world. The United States and Europe are currently experiencing record high cases. But I think the uptick in cases was less due to the fact that people went out than the lax enforcement of health protocols in places where gathering of many people tend to occur.

Certainly we should not expect people to just stay home forever. They have to go to their jobs, eat out, buy essential stuff, and well, live their lives. It’s what they do outside that has an impact on the country’s COVID-19 caseload. This means that national and local authorities need to step up their game in terms of enforcement. The classic example of this, in my mind, is the curfew hours imposed in Metro Manila before. I certainly see the logic of keeping people out of the streets during certain hours. But the problem is not the fact that people are outside, it is what people actually do when they do go outside in public places.

A fully vaccinated individual who diligently follows health protocols (masks up, avoids crowded places, maintains a safe distance from other people) is certainly low risk even when going outside. In other words, the focus should be on enforcement of health protocols with the objective of making sure that health protocols become a habit, almost second nature to people. This should be done in tandem with strengthening the capacity of health care workers and institutions as well as our testing, isolation and contact tracing ability.

Have we learned our lessons? I certainly hope so. The granular lockdown approach worked well the last time it was implemented. If we just resort to the knee-jerk reaction of a hard and total lockdown without regard to the economic, psychological and emotional well-being of our people then we are just as Albert Einstein described it: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

 
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