OPINION: Will Duterte’s next ‘solution’ make life for Filipinos worse or better?

Ellen T. Tordesillas

Posted at Jun 15 2020 12:46 AM

Our lives have been drastically altered by the rigid measures the government has imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19 the last four months. 

The new quarantine classifications that President Duterte is going to announce Monday, June 15 will further affect our lives. Will it make life worse or better? 

The study done by a group of professors from the University of the Philippines on the situation in Metro Manila and Cebu related to Covid-19 released last June 8 would help us deal with whatever Duterte will decide.

The UP professors said, based on the trends that they have observed since March 1 to June 8, 2020, they forecast that “the number of Covid-19 cases, assuming a continuation of current trends, is a total of 40,000 Covid-19 cases by June 30, and 1,850 total deaths due to Covid-19.”

As of June 13, the Department of Health tracker showed the total number of cases nationwide was 25,392. While 1,074 have died, 5,706 have recovered.

The UP professors said National Capital Region is classified “as a medium- to high-­risk area. The number of new Covid-­19 cases needs to decrease for 14 days as per international health policy consensus."

Cebu, on the other hand, is classified as “a high-­risk area, which means the Covid-19 virus is still spreading in the province.”

“This should be a cause for concern for both the national and the local government of Cebu. To this end, we recommend that the government review its strategies for social distancing and other health protocols in NCR and Cebu. 

“The easing of quarantine restrictions must be matched with tighter monitoring, stricter social distancing, and the wearing of PPEs (masks and other protective equipment) and increased testing and surveillance as the working population begins to increase their exposure,” they said.

They said their forecast “is not a reason for all of us to panic."

“The situation is still manageable. Our health system is not about to be overwhelmed. The period under ECQ and MECQ has allowed the government to scale up some capacity to deal with the pandemic. But we need to intensify efforts. This requires a timely and appropriate response from the government and the continued support and cooperation of civil society and the private sector.”

They further said, “As the government continues a calibrated and gradual reopening of the economy, it is incumbent among individuals to exercise their citizenship and leadership to ensure that health guidelines are implemented such as social distancing, the wearing of masks, and proper hygiene. As we reopen, everybody becomes a front liner in the cause of managing the pandemic. What we do as individuals is important to ensure that the efforts of the government in fighting the pandemic succeed. Let us not forget that the pandemic is still here and it still remains a threat to public health. We still have a lot to do. With the cooperation and collaboration of government, business, civil society, and each and every Filipino, we are on our path to overcoming the pandemic.”

The UP professors, who conducted the study are Guido David, Ph.D. Professor, Institute of Mathematics; Ranjit Singh Rye, MPA Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines; MA Patricia Agbulos, MBM Associate.

The three are fellows of OCTA Research.

Other professors also contributed to the study namely Erwin Alampay, Ph.D.Professor, UP National College of Public Administration and Governance; Eero Rosini Brillantes, CEO, Blueprint Campaign Consultancy; Emmanuel Lallana, Ph.D. Alumnus and former faculty member, UP Diliman CEO, Ideacorp, Inc.; Rodrigo Angelo Ong, MD, Professorial Lecturer, Science Society Program, UP College of Science; Michael Tee, MD, MHPED, MBA Professor, UP College of Medicine; Benjamin Vallejo Jr., Ph.D., Professor, UP Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology & the Science Society Program, College of Science.

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Government officials keep on saying that what they are doing is to keep the people safe. They should read the Social Weather Stations’ mobile phone survey conducted May 4 to 10 on the impact of the quarantine on the people. Here are some of the highlights:

-    the Covid-19 crisis brought great stress to 55 percent and much stress to 34 percent of working-age Filipinos (15 years old and above). Only 11 percent felt little or no stress because of it.

-    The suspension of public transport is burdensome for 77 percent of Filipino families – very burdensome for 40 percent, and somewhat burdensome for 37 percent. Only 22 percent feel little or no burden from the suspension.

-    5.4 percent of working-age Filipinos (15 years old and above) were stranded by quarantines. This gives an estimated 4.1 million stranded based on the 2020 projected population of 75.8 million working-age persons.

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The lockdown the Duterte government imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 is the most rigid compared to other countries. It has also become the longest.

A May 5 article in the Asian Economic Review showed that based on Google’s data on six categories of public mobility (retail and recreation; grocery stores and pharmacies; parks; transit stations; workplaces; and residential areas), the Philippines posted the largest average decline at 50.83 percent. Public mobility was down by 85 percent; retail and recreation by 79 percent; workplaces by 71 percent.

It was followed by India with an average decline in public mobility by 47.83 percent.

Yet in these two countries, cases of Covid-19 continue to rise. Which should be a lesson to decision makers that a lockdown, even though strict, does not stop Covid-19. Lockdowns must be complemented by strong health measures. Most of all, competent leadership.

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