"We need to ease the suffering of our people."
Now that the strictest lockdown is about to be imposed all over again in the NCR and other so-called "ground zero areas" what else should be done aside from this usual diktat and the regular protocols, i.e., social distancing, mask /shield wearing and hand washing?
This question is being asked in view of the seeming inability of the IATF to come up with a cohesive plan everytime so-called experts announce new “developments” on the COVID- 19 front. Over the past one and a half years that we have been under this pandemic, we have gone through this routine of lockdowns and obligatory protocols, tests, quarantines and costly hospital care. That is, until the vaccine rollout started, which then became the apparent solution until this latest Delta variant surge came along.
So we are back to the same routine all over again: a routine which has caused massive closures of small and informal businesses, unemployment, stress among students and school workers and a run on the national treasury. There is no way this kind of routine can be sustained any longer. And early on the administration had plans and programs designed precisely to ensure that we will be able to withstand any surges in the future. Those were good plans. The question is: What happened along the way?
We said we should inform and educate our people in taking care of themselves and their communities. We have had bits and pieces of these guidelines as we have been getting confusing statements from all sorts of officials and their “experts” who have only muddled the situation in many instances. We cannot even have standards for barangay clearing and assistance to ensure that those who should stay home do so and only those who are eligible to go around go about their thing in as seamless and proper a way as possible. What we have is a state of fear mongering compounded by hyperventilated statements from all kinds of experts which the government seems unable to even refute or commend as the case may be.
We said we should provide assistance to our people especially the most vulnerable and marginalized including our OFWs. We did that but the manner by which the same has been worked out left much to be desired. Up to now, we are hearing problems at the level of the LGUs and the workplaces across the board. Even so we soldiered on but this assistance program cannot be sustained any longer. Thus, the need to open up and let people work.
We said we should enhance our testing, tracing and hospital care systems. We provided billions of pesos for those activities. The problem is we have yet to come out with a standard test and trace system down to the smallest barangay and a central database of tested citizens. In the case of our hospitals we have been continuously hearing problems of equipment, personnel and funding support. Again, we ask whatever happened to all the billions which have been allocated for these activities?
In fact, we have had a long-running debate about the use of ivermectin and other drugs as prophylactic or even cure for COVID-19 in view of their known therapeutic value in the meantime that the vaccine is still in short supply. Instead of working to get these suggested drugs into the open and for use, the DoH and the FDA have gone out of their way to block their use. Even the suggestion to use a part of the health budget to buy vitamins and other supplements meant to enhance a person's immune system has fallen on deaf ears. Meantime, we get people paying through their noses for the use of the favorite drugs endorsed for use by the DoH and FDA like remdesivir as treatment.
We can go on and on enumerating all the plans and programs which we thought early on would be enough for us not to panic in the event the pandemic gets out of hand or in this case surges come about. For if truth be told, viruses will always be around and in the case of this virus specially it will probably take more time than usual for it to be endemic. Meanwhile, people have to take care of the food on their tables, roof over their heads, water and electricity bills, school fees, transport and all the things which make their daily existence a little more bearable. These are the things which the administration should be looking into to ease life under this coming lockdown.
Is there a way, for example, to freeze payments for water, electricity and other bills in the meantime? What about rentals and school fees? What about the prices of basic goods and services? What about taxes? What about transport fares and so on and on and on. Again, we urge the government to check all of these to at least give our working class and small/informal businesses a fighting chance to get up and labor on for another day.
As should be clear by now, the magic wand to a relatively normal living, a massive vaccination roll out to achieve herd immunity, will not come anytime soon. In fact, we will be lucky if we succeed in securing the millions of doses of contracted vaccines by the end of next year at the earliest. Given the continuing vaccine supply shortfall, worldwide our best bet is mid- or end of 2023. So we should proactively look for ways to stem the virus' transmission, limit to the minimum severe infections leading to deaths, enhance our people's immune systems and, yes, readiness of our health care system against any surges and the like and reignite the vigor of our businesses. Our people's resilience is commendable but there is a limit to their ability to stand up and survive through these trying times.
So the question is: What happened to all the plans and programs which were supposed to have been put in place as we fought off the ravages of COVID-19 over the last 18 months?