No light at tunnel’s end

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    IT was mid-March when President Duterte imposed a community quarantine on Metro Manila. He actually began with an announcement suspending schools for four days – which actually left me wondering where they got the idea of a four-day suspension given the fact that the virus was said to have a two-week incubation period!

    But soon enough that four-day furlough for students became a month’s lockdown for Metro Manila. Which caused non-Metro Manilans to flee for their home provinces, some of them bringing the virus along. Soon the lockdown was extended throughout the archipelago as cases of COVID-19 began sprouting in the Davao Region, in Cebu, in Iloilo, even in Baguio. CARAGA also registered a COVID case from a local who had returned from Manila. Barangays started enforcing not just the quarantine but the 8 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew as well. Passes were needed. Supermarkets had lines. Streets were empty.

    But the number of reported cases were low. What were we a “model of containment” for?

    When a pandemic strikes, however, how things quickly change. The alarm bells started to ring from the healthcare workers who were faced with dealing with an unknown enemy sans necessary protective equipment.

    I described our situation as battling an enemy blindfolded.

    And because COVID symptoms were like flu symptoms, so many flocked to hospitals at the slightest sign of a bad fever, a cough that didn’t stop, and a throat that was sore. But testing wasn’t available because, contrary to earlier assurances, there were not enough test kits to handle a floor. Far from it. To make things worse, many of the few test kits were being used, it seemed, by politicians who were being tested even sans symptoms, in contravention of the DOH’s own testing protocols.

    Unease started to grow. Social media started to be filled with unflattering comments on how the issue was being managed. “Sumunod na lang kayo” started to ring hollow.

    A month has passed since the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, and a “state of health emergency” throughout the rest of the country, and we have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is made more lamentable because of the fawning being done by the Health Secretary every chance he could get, boasting even that the Philippines’ low infection numbers were due to the decisive moves taken by the President himself.

    Well, those low numbers are now the highest in ASEAN, and we also have the worst record in recoveries among ASEAN’s five biggest economies. And while I expect Indonesia with a population twice as ours to eventually register more COVID cases, that’s no consolation.

    One can even be justified in doubting whether the count of active cases, of recoveries and of deaths is accurate.

    Dagdag-Bawas during elections robs the people of their voice and endangers democracy. Dagdag-Bawas in a tally during a pandemic robs the people of the real picture and endangers their lives.

    And now comes the President’s statement that the lockdown will be lifted only once a vaccine has been found. Well, guess what: for some diseases caused by viruses (HIV/AIDS, Mers CoV and Ebola come to mind), the medical and scientific community has yet to discover a vaccine. And it took 50 years for a polio vaccine to be found.

    Does it mean we might end up having to wait forever for the light at the end of the tunnel?

    Or, as I suggested a few weeks back, should we just do a much better job at Trace, Test, Treat (and repeat)?

    For if we don’t, this is gong to be a long dark tunnel indeed.

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