Grappling with a dilemma

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    FOR Donald Trump, the choice is clear: America has to open, virus or no virus.

    But this may be because Trump is facing a re-election this year, and with over 20 million Americans already losing their jobs in the inside of a month, there is a growing risk he will become a one-term President. This explains why he wants the economy restarted – so that jobs will be re-created and the stock market will jump. And he wants it restarted tomorrow.

    Only medical experts and even some politicians in his own party are forcing his foot to press on the brakes. They fear that if America reopens too early, the death toll will spiral just as infections spiral.

    But Trump is not alone in facing that dilemma. Every government all over the world is torn between, on the one hand, keeping people locked in while health authorities wrestle with the unseen enemy, while on the other fretting over how much longer business has to stay shuttered, denying livelihood to millions of people. Economy vs health?

    Early in February I already suggested in a Facebook post that organizations begin studying work-from-home arrangements. I reasoned that this would limit physical interactions and help slow the spread of the virus. I also opined that our archipelagic nature could work in our favor, because islands could be turned into COVID-free oases once strict travel protocols are in place.

    Two months later, looking at the problem from an archipelagic perspective may be the most logical course of action to take.

    As it stands, Luzon has the worst case of COVID infections, with nearly 70% of cases in Metro Manila and another 15% or so in Calabarzon. Outside of Luzon you have pockets of cases in urban areas like Cebu and the Davao Region; but in many other provinces the cases of suspected or probable infections go down with every day that passes. Assuming that testing can be done to expose and reveal asymptomatic positives who could be spreading the virus under our very noses, some of these provinces could begin lifting their lockdown regulations by end April, allowing commerce to restart while requiring, for example, 14-day quarantine for people arriving from Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon and even the Davao Region.

    Assuming, I say, that testing can be done. Without that we remain blindfolded, fighting an enemy we cannot see.

    So do we lift the lockdown at end of April? Definitely not, at least not for Metro Manila. To do so would be to condemn hundreds or maybe even thousands more to COVID-related death. But could we do a relaxation of the lockdown elsewhere? I don’t see why not – provided our authorities can ramp up testing for more and more people because the virus is out there: it is in some people who don’t even know it and these are the carriers we have to find and isolate so that we get a clearer picture of the battlefield in front of us.

    So to resolve the dilemma of “do we or do we not lift the lockdown,” we need to ramp up testing for tens of thousands of people every day so that our next steps can be calibrated carefully and calibrated right.

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