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Breathing space

"There must be a better plan than simply waiting for a vaccine."

Metro Manila returns to a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) today, largely because of an appeal by the medical community, which says COVID-19 cases are overwhelming hospitals and health care workers.

The dozens of doctors groups led by the Philippine College of Physicians and the Philippine Medical Association sought a two-week lockdown under the more stringent enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to give hospitals and health workers a breather—or a “timeout” -- from the rush of cases that was filling up beds and ICU facilities in the metropolis.

In response to the appeal, the President, in consultation with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, opted for the less restrictive MECQ—a compromise that seeks to balance health and safety considerations with the need to enable businesses to keep running and people to continue working, albeit at a reduced capacity.

Both politically and economically, a return to an ECQ would have been unthinkable, particularly since the country had already endured the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world—80 days, even longer than Wuhan, China's --with precious little to show for it.

In the wake of the subsequent relaxation of quarantine restrictions, COVID-19 infections began to rise again at an alarming rate, triggering the public cry for help from the medical community.

We are compelled to ask, however, what can be achieved in the two weeks under MECQ that 80 days of ECQ failed to accomplish.

Is the Department of Health going to be any better equipped to deal with the pandemic than it was then? Have we improved COVID-19 testing, detection, isolation and treatment—as well as contact tracing—to the point that we can see an actual drop in cases? Can we make that happen during the two weeks?

Also, are our policymakers any wiser now, and acknowledge the dangers of opening up the economy much too quickly? Even as the medical community was appealing for help, some government officials were pushing for reopening gyms, internet cafes and tutorial centers—with hardly a word as to how these establishments might be made safe.

There must be a better plan than simply waiting for a vaccine.

What, we also need to know, can the hospitals do in two weeks to improve their ability to cope?

In the United States, where the use of face masks has been bizarrely transformed into a political issue, a Delta Air Lines flight was recently turned around because several passengers refused to wear a mask on board. Thankfully, we do not have this kind of trouble with illogical and recalcitrant citizens. Filipinos have been generally cooperative and compliant with community quarantine restrictions—but there is a limit to how much they will accept if no better results are shown.

Topics: Editorial , Metro Manila , modified enhanced community quarantine , MECQ , COVID-19 , Philippine College of Physicians , Philippine Medical Association
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