Less of uniforms, more of a plan

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    IT was March 16 – wasn’t it? – when Metro Manila was first subjected to a form of community quarantine which limited the public’s ability to move around and saw the closure of most enterprises considered “non-essential.”

    Metro Manila was “abandoned” by its transients, who took the bus or boat or plane home bringing along their possessions; some apparently brought along with them the coronavirus.

    A day later this community quarantine was “enhanced,” and the rest of the country was placed under a health emergency. Provinces and LGUs proceeded to invoke the emergency situation to enact their own regulations; borders were “closed” between barangays, between LGUs, or between provinces, as eyes were glued on the “body count” that the Department of Health released every afternoon. In the early days of March, testing was in the hundreds per day – and for a time the list of those being tested seemed to consist mainly of VIPs who were shaken to death about their mortality.

    In the early days our numbers were low. We were a model.

    Very quickly, reality hit: there were not enough masks and personal protective equipment for frontliners and not enough test kits for everyone. Not surprisingly it was the DOH that was taking the brunt of criticism; weeks after social media lit up with anti-Duque posts, 15 senators call for his resignation.

    The President stood by him; the senators quieted down. But the public continued to complain.

    To which “defenders of the faith,” aka DDS, responded with a variety of refrains: “Sumunod na lang kayo;” “Ano na ba ang naiambag ninyo,” and the like. Even HRH Queen Elizabeth was trotted out as supporting the President (though not Duque).

    And when our numbers soared to make us for a while numero uno in ASEAN, we were told that we were not in a race.

    We are about to come to the end of the ECQ for Metro Manila and talk has been rife about the next phase. I’ve shared my own thoughts in this space two days ago when I opined that the ECQ must continue in Metro Manila – and maybe Calabarzon and Central Luzon – because we are far from being out of the woods. In fact, we are so far behind in daily testing (3,000 to 5,000 per day) that no one can provide a full if rough picture of the infection situation anywhere and everywhere.

    We need to be able to have randomly tested at least 1% of Metro Manila’s 12 million residents to even have an idea of what we are confronting. As I pointed out last week, if you were to do the national count of 5,000 tests per day only and fully in Metro Manila, it would take you 200 days to test 1 million!

    We are where we are because what we are doing is stumbling towards the finish line, a finish line which isn’t even in sight. When we should have been scrambling to develop or buy test kits we were boasting we had enough. When we should have been encouraging ideas on how to protect our healthcare workers on the frontlines we were claiming we had enough PPEs. And when we should be thanking the public for scrambling to support hospitals and healthcare workers, some government agencies come up with regulations meant to centralize (if not limit) the giving.

    Even now the DOH is being quoted as claiming that infected frontliners got sick not because of lack of PPEs but because they were infected outside of work. That statement was like the DOH shooting itself in the foot and then putting the injured foot in its mouth.

    The facts are: 1) we don’t know how widespread the infection is, especially who are asymptomatic in the community; 2) our ability to test remains very limited and will remain so for weeks if not months; 3) people are suffering, caught between the devil (the virus) and the deep blue sea (hunger and poverty; and 4) no one knows how much longer all these will last.

    Bottom line is we haven’t seen a plan. How will testing capacity be increased and rolled out? How will the most needy be provided food and some cash? How will our lockdown be eased when the time comes, identifying which enterprises, which areas, solving logistics issues and all?

    We don’t need to see more uniforms on the streets. They only signify weakness. What we need to see is a plan. Surely that isn’t too much to ask?

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