A difficult balancing act

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    `Whatever policy decision they make will be challenged by people who believe otherwise, but they should not falter.’

    AFTER eight weeks of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), many Filipinos are now hungry, bored, disappointed, angry, helpless, and tired of this involuntary “imprisonment” inside their homes that the government has imposed on them. Lest we forget, a few thousand poor individuals do not even have dwelling places to stay indoors in.

    The ECQ has ravaged the lives and the livelihood of millions of Filipinos here and abroad, wiped away jobs and small businesses, and eroded confidence in the economy, making it more difficult to recover. As it is, many are already asking which of the two wreaked the greater havoc on Philippine society: the ECQ or the SARS-CoV-2, the scientific name of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

    So now the nation’s top officials are talking about easing mobility restrictions, noting that there have been some positive developments in our fight against the dreaded COVID-19. For one, the number of recoveries (1,924) has exceeded the death toll (719). For another, the partnership of the government and the private sector, including NGOs and foundations like the Philippine Red Cross, limited the cases to only 10,794 as of the latest count.

    Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the government should be wary about immediately reopening the economy and must put the lives and health of people above everything else. He cautioned that restarting businesses without adequate health safeguards might increase the risk of coronavirus transmission, causing a second wave of outbreak.

    Chua correctly pointed out that any decision to relax quarantine restrictions and open up more businesses must depend on the decrease of coronavirus cases as well as the capacity of the country’s healthcare system. He noted that the country’s testing capacity must also be considered in the decision to jump-start the local economy.

    Both Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Vice President Leonor Robredo share this rather conservative view, for they feel that the nation’s efforts to stem the pandemic, especially the mass testing part, are still wanting. Sotto, for instance, wondered why the 20 Senate employees who stayed in their homes located in various places for weeks during the Senate recess, and who did not mingle with confirmed COVID-19 cases, tested positive for the virus on the opening of sessions on May 4.

    As the May 15 end of the ECQ nears, the mayors of Metro Manila have come up with three suggestions on how to proceed from here, how to strike a balance between opening some business activities and continue protecting the health of their constituents.

    It is up to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and President Rodrigo Duterte to find this balance and we can only hope that their decision will consider what is best for the Filipino people. Whatever policy decision they make will be challenged by people who believe otherwise, but they should not falter.

    After going into the new normal, we can consider structural reforms that must be taken to improve the nation’s resiliency and put it on its feet again.

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