A senior government official has been quoted in media as defending the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) decision to ease quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila despite the alarming increase in the number of daily cases of COVID-19.
He said it was not for lack of funds for cash aid or “ayuda” as some sectors had claimed, although it was said – more jokingly but with a tone of truth – that the modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) is practically the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) but without “ayuda”.
Under this more flexible quarantine classification, people are allowed to go to work in certain companies in order to keep the economy moving, even slowly. They are doing so even without adequate public transport more than a year after the pandemic was first reported, with their movements hampered by combat-ready police and grim-faced barangay staff.
It has been 17 months since we were detained, and our fellow Filipinos are still venturing out of their homes with the slightest health protection from their government against a virus that is still very present here and is once again unchecked. What they need to survive, they must earn, risking their lives and that of those close to them.
The reason given by this official for the decommissioning, as reported online, is to “balance” the health of the population and the economy.
Equilibrium, to my knowledge, is a state of uniform distribution, where the elements or factors are in precise proportion or symmetry. For most medical experts and observers, however, the IATF’s decision tilts in favor of the economy. Members of the task force chose between “lives and livelihoods,” one of the experts posted on Twitter. From a health management perspective, it is difficult to justify easing restrictions as cases continue to rise daily, hospitals are back to full capacity and more children are treated for COVID- 19. The projections of the usually cautious Department of Health (DOH) are surprisingly bleak. The DOH said that at its current rate, the number of active cases could exceed 200,000 by the end of September.
According to some observers, what triggered the downgrade and divided the IATF over whether it had to resort to secret ballot was a scenario put forward by the DOH of a five-week extension of the ECQ to slow the spread. virus. This was totally unacceptable to the economic team and business groups across the country. And business groups have even publicly declared what was being said quietly in business circles: that lockdowns “are not the cure” for the pandemic.
And it seems that some IATF members have finally come to their senses. They seemingly question the practicality of the lockdowns and now want a new approach to tackling the pandemic.
The IATF does not need to commission a study or convene a virtual meeting of experts to identify new approaches. Experts and independent groups, including the World Bank, have drawn the government’s attention to the devastating effect on the economy of its predisposition to resort to lockdown. But the government chose to ignore them.
A World Bank official even blamed the country’s dire prospects for a rapid economic recovery on the closures. I wrote about this a few columns ago, and the words of said World Bank official must be repeated: “The Philippines has relied more on prolonged restrictions on mobility than on an effective test-based strategy. “
It’s a sad and damning commentary on the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic that a choice had to be made between saving lives or saving jobs, when both can be done.
And the government wouldn’t be in such a dilemma, on its own, if it had taken the right measures last year: strengthening our health system, improving mass testing and contact tracing, imposing checks. tighter borders and diverting government resources to provide financial and economic assistance to local workers and businesses.
Instead, he relied on oppressive lockdowns that hurt the economy, prioritized infrastructure projects that failed to generate needed jobs, and siphoned billions of precious public funds away from them. could have saved lives and the economy.
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