Many were shocked with the revelation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque in the Senate Hearing Wednesday, May 21, that the Philippines is already on the “Second Wave” of the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Does the closure of the ABS-CBN really created an impact that nobody except Duque knew this information leaving the rest of the Filipinos in the dark?
There are proposals circulating that the Covid-19 rapid testing be made as a mandatory requirement for return to work clearance of our workers. But while the proposal has good intentions, it somehow misses the real objective of why we are opting for Covid-19 testing in the first place.
Last April 24, President Rodrigo Duterte included Albay in the list of areas under extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This means, the thirst of our wine lovers and liquor drinkers will not yet be quenched. You read it well: Not Yet.
But why is Albay along with Catanduanes included in the list while Camrines Sur which also registered positive cases is not?
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua explained that there are basic standards in classifying the areas. If an area satisfies the basic health standards — that is, there are no cases or, if there are, the confirmed patients are recovering — then it will be further assessed an classified whether the risks in the area are low, medium or high. If the risks are high such as the area has a high population density with a large number of suspected cases, then ECQ will not be relaxed. Otherwise, if the risks are moderate then a modified ECQ will be implemented or, if low, ECQ will be lifted.
The tool used is presented below:
Albay, being home to a number of Covid-19 positive patients, belong to a high risk area and is therefore among those whose ECQ will be extended until May 15. Under this extended ECQ, stringent quarantine measures will be continually enforced, public transportation is suspended and only the essential businesses will operate. In simple terms, Liquor Ban stays and no one is allowed to sell or buy alcohol for thirst-quenching. Only alcohol for disinfecting are allowed.
For that reason, Cong. Joey Salceda (Albay, 2nd Dist.) albeit with a tinge of humor kindly requests everyone to stay at home so that the Liquor Ban will be lifted.
I initially thought that the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) imposed by the government could give me a nice and comfortable rest. Unfortunately, the work from home scheme literally meant more work at home for me — sometimes having four to six virtual meetings a day. especially in times when connectivity is a challenge.
But I admit I enjoy the scheme, too, because apart from squeezing a bonding with my family in between meetings, I meet the peers that I rarely see and the people I used to work with without a heavy investment on gas and traffic. One of those that I met again is Karl Chua, the acting Socioeconomic Secretary of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). Karl used to be one of the Team Leaders I worked with in the World Bank.
Karl graced yesterday’s meeting organized by the Philippine Covid-19 Action Network (CAN). I must say he is one of the those who talks clearly and with sense in the Duterte Government. He explained the need to extend the ECQ but must be modified so as to balance economic revitalization and controlling the spread of the Coronavirus disease — almost the same as our proposal of a selective ECQ.
He admitted that like the rest of the world, the government is also learning on how to respond to Covid 19 — at times even doing a trial and error approach. But as much as possible, the government (specifically the National Economic and Development Authority or NEDA and the Inter-Agency Task Force or IATF) would always base its decisions on science and data despite the seeming lack of it. Indeed, Covid-19 is the first of its kind and this pandemic is one of the biggest, if not the most hyped, in this era.
Painful as this may sound but the government needs to extend the ECQ. This time, however, the extension is modified in such a way that there is already a basis on which to extend and which should not. Based on the decision tool used, those that do not meet the minimum standards will continue to be on a lockdown until May 15. Basically, the standard includes the presence of a well-equipped health facility to treat the Covid-19 patients.
For those that satisfied the standards, geographical factors will be assessed and areas will be determined whether these are low-risk, medium risk or high risk areas. For high risk areas, ECQ will definitely be extended. These are the areas that still have positive Covid-19 patients.
ECQ will be lifted on April 30 for low risk areas while a modified ECQ will be implemented in moderate risk areas. For the latter, there will be age and health restrictions — i.e., the children and senior citizens will not be allowed to go outside their houses — and sector related restrictions particularly for non-essential working population.
The Luzon provinces that will be kept under lockdown are the following:
Island of Mindoro (Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro)
Davao del Norte*
Davao de Oro (formerly Compostela Valley)*
*The high-risk assessment for these areas would be reviewed and may change before April 30.
Karl admits that the tool is not that perfect but it is better than having no tool at all. Besides, we cannot wait for time to stop just to come up with a better tool in these times when people are dying and the government needs to decide.