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Lifting the lockdown: Lives vs. money

"I favor an extension of the lockdown by another two weeks, provided we..."

 

The emerging consensus in the business community is to continue with the Luzon-wide lockdown, from the current March 17, 2020-April 12, 2020 period, to April 12-April 30, 2020.

A two-week extension looks good; another month-long lockdown will be devastating, creating havoc that in turn could inflict permanent damage, to us, as a people; employment, to the economy, and to our sense of nationhood.

An extension can take two forms:

One, lockdown in its present form, with very few industries exempted (only medical, hygiene, supermarkets, pharmacies, media, and Grab services allowed). Two, a modified lockdown or partial easing to allow for more exemptions—like including construction and hardware, maybe, to relieve boredom in homes and to prepare for the only stimulus that counts fast and with the most benefit—construction and infra.

Either way, a two-week lockdown will cost the economy a minimum of P500 billion, a loss of at least half a million jobs (thousands of them gone forever), and the complete obliteration of a third of the country’s one million small enterprises. Add to that mass hunger and unrest staring at us now in the face.

“Extension is a difficult topic and one where there is no wrong or right,” says Jojo Concepcion, CEO of Concepcion-Carrier, the giant airconditioner manufacturer which has been idled by the lockdown. “If we allow the economy and business to open too early, then we stand the risk that the virus spreading again. On the other hand, the longer the economy and business are not allowed to start, the more many businesses become not viable and people will lose their jobs or have no income.” 

I favor an extension of the current lockdown, by another two weeks, provided we:

1) Ramp up testing to 10,000 per day.

The Philippines’ testing capacity is woefully inadequate. It did 2,300 tests in eight weeks, for a population of 110 million. During the same period, South Korea did more than 358,000 tests, for a population of 51 million. I understand the Department of Health has now 121,300 test kits—from Brunei, Singapore, South Korea and China.

At 10,000 tests per day, 121,000 kits would last only 12 days—in a period of the gravest peril for the would-be infected.

Besides, the local testing capacity, given the need for skilled personnel, adequate equipment and facilities, is still 1,000 per day. At 1,000 tests per day, the virus would have been gone and we are still in testing mode.

2) Ramp up contact tracing by forming 1,000 tracing teams each team with a doctor, IT, police or one from the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The National Bureau of Investigation, instead of wasting its personnel and equipment summoning Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto to explain for paying attention to his constituents, should perhaps join the tracking teams. Tracking involves locating potentially infected people, interviewing them, testing them, confining them while under observation or monitoring their whereabouts every minute.  

3) Ramp up treatment gear.  

We need easily nine million sets of PPEs—personal protective equipment; and 30 million face masks These should be given away free and not hoarded. In South Korea, the government commissioned half of a company’s output and sold the masks at cost or at a loss.

We also need 100,000 hospital beds (on top of the current inventory of 97,000) to treat COVID-19 patients. Treatment takes two weeks to one month during which time the patient is isolated and barred from having visitors. There is a claim though that majority of patients could be treated at home since their sickness is only mild. But the experience of Senators Koko Pimentel and Sonny Angara shows hospital confinement is still best.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million, devoted 45 hospitals for COVID-19 patients alone. Metro Manila, a city of 14 million, has no more than half a dozen hospitals with COVID-19 capability.

As for medical personnel, if you believe DILG Secretary Eduardo Año’s extrapolation of 75,000 patients, we should probably recruit now easily 300,000 people—doctors, nurses, assistants, and cleaning crews in hospitals.

4) Ramp up food rations, not cash, to 18 million poor families a day. Food, even if stolen, has to be eaten; cash, if stolen, is still cash.

For his part, Jojo Concepcion proposes four criteria before lifting the lockdown: 1)a 100 percent testing of all PUIs and PUMs;  2) facilities be set up for the isolation of all positive Covid-19 cases, and separate isolation facilities for all PUIs and PUMs; 3) set up procedures, processes and teams for handling the identification, isolation, contact tracing and segregation of all exposed and infected people;  4) wait for clear reduction and deceleration of new cases for one week before lifting the lockdown.

Meanwhile, San Miguel Corp. President Ramon Ang has downplayed the negative impact of the enhanced community quarantine on businesses, saying he’ll “choose life over money.”

“What is more important are lives, not money," Ang said in an interview with CNN Philippines April 1. "We can make money again but life, once you lose it, it's gone forever. So between life and money, I’d choose life.”

RSA cautions: “We have to be sure that when we’re going to lift it on April 15, we have already flattened the curve.” If it were up to him, he would “lift [the quarantine] at least by the end of April or May 15.”

SMC has launched a number of initiatives to assist those affected by the pandemic. It has committed P500 million to purchase PPEs for distribution, free, to frontline workers. It has spent P181 million for food donations to poor communities.

SMC has rejigged its liquor plants to produce alcohol. Over 100,000 liters of free alcohol have been distributed to hospitals, local government units, and the police.

“We invite other businesses to join us in this initiative and work together to support our selfless health care workers on the front lines of this crisis," pleads RSA. "We are all in this together."

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Topics: Lockdown , COVID-19 , Enhanced Community Quarantine , Eduardo Año , Ramon Ang
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