What to do after April 30?

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    POOR President Duterte. If posts by so-called DDS are to be believed, he is today under tremendous pressure having to weigh options regarding the next steps for the country come April 30, the end of the “lockdown” period.

    Does he continue keeping Filipinos under quarantine regulations, limiting ingress and egress to a select few but effectively denying millions of daily wage-earners their livelihood for another week or two?

    Does he lift the quarantine, in an attempt to restart an ailing economy, at the risk of resurgence in COVID-19 cases? Does he try to find a middle way (assuming there is a middle way) that satisfies the need to hold down the infection rate while giving everyone a chance to begin earning their keep once more?

    I saw an image of a flag-holding PRRD walking side by side with (a much-taller) Jesus Christ that was created, I suppose, to invite all of us to keep him in our prayers as he wrestles with the dilemma outlined above. While the image elicited mixed emotions in me – I was aghast and amused and ambivalent all at the same time – the thought of what the next step or steps have to be left me bewitched, bothered and bewildered.

    Someone in PRRD’s shoes must surely feel the need to ask God for guidance because the decision he will have to make can spell life or death in the literal and figurative sense for millions.

    (But I guess the first thing PRRD will have to do is to ask God for forgiveness for calling Him stupid, yes? He-he. I’m sure He hasn’t forgotten that. Then again, no worries. God is a forgiving God and is used to being called names far worse than stupid.)

    A number of friends on Facebook have been taking private and unscientific polls on what should be done after April 30. End the lockdown or lift it? I’ve been asked that myself, particularly by an officemate (non-Filipino) who repeatedly says he needs to go see his barber and his female therapist (not necessarily in that order, I think).

    I know what he wants to happen, as he has made it clear that he believes the government should impose mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing and encouraging the continued practice of good hygiene acts while allowing businesses to resume. And he is not alone; he is like Donald Trump, who has even said he wouldn’t himself wear a mask!

    But the threat of COVID-19 remains very real. And very serious. It remains one of the most virulent diseases we’ve seen in a long time; as a dear friend now working as an anesthesiologist in the US told me, “It’s mind boggling how fast and fatal the sick ones deteriorate in a matter of hours.”

    What makes this coronavirus strain more dangerous is that it seems to be much more contagious BEFORE a carrier even exhibits symptoms, and that so many in the population may remain asymptomatic while actually spreading the virus. How do you get a grip on an enemy like that?

    And how many other diseases are as infectious to – and fatal for – healthcare workers tending to their patients? Yes, maybe more have died of cancer, or diabetes, or the common seasonal flu in a month as those who have died of COVID-19 – but those who die of cancer or diabetes or the common seasonal flu do not include the doctors and nurses and medics tending to them and who then get exposed to the disease before succumbing themselves!

    A cancer or diabetes patient is not a danger to his healthcare providers; even if a doctor had to treat ten cancer or diabetes patients in one day, he need not fear getting their disease. But a COVID patient is the opposite – and the more patients a doctor or nurse or medic gets exposed to, the higher the risk.

    Which brings me to my point of view about this lockdown, or ECQ. There is no way we can lift it, particularly in Metro Manila, when we have no idea how many out there are asymptomatic carriers, and have no idea what clusters are out there where a breakout is happening as we speak.

    We cannot lift it in Metro Manila while testing is a paltry 3,000 or 5,000 a day NATIONWIDE, which if all testing were done solely in NCR for only 1 million of its 12 million nighttime population would require 200 days or 7 months to complete!

    And we definitely cannot lift it if the projection numbers are accurate – that a peak infection by August would require 1.5 million beds, including 456,000 beds in ICU – whereas we have only about 3,300 beds in Level 2 and 3 hospitals available today. (FYI: Level 3 are hospitals with specialty treatment facilities other than ICUs like dialysis, etc., while Level 2 has ICUs).

    I may be wrong here but I’ve always argued that an economy can be restarted because of the pent-up demand once we are fairly confident the lockdown can be lifted. But I am sure I am not wrong when I say that you cannot restart a life.

    And so, in response to those who asked, I would propose a continuation of the ECQ in Metro Manila, a similar or graduated one in Central Luzon, Calabarzon, maybe also the Davao region, and close to full lifting of the health emergency in most other parts of the Philippines where cases are very few or non-existent.

    This should be accompanied by strict compliance with such regulations as mask wearing nationwide for a few more months, the 14-day quarantine of travelers from NCR, Calabarzon, Luzon and Davao moving into “liberated” areas, and physical distancing.

    When more and more people began talking about the virus last February I was reminded of my late father’s stories of the liberation of Manila from February to March 1945, which left him and three older sisters orphaned but alive. My dad would tell us how fighting within Intramuros where they lived and sought refuge was intense, street by street, house by house, no quarters given.

    That’s how this has to be won. Impractical as it may sound, the virus has to be cleared house by house, street by street, village by village, barangay by barangay, with “liberated” areas being declared and delineated and its residents given back their “freedoms.”

    Indeed, this COVID-19 will be the equivalent of World War II for many post-WW2 generations. We will lose people we know. We will live in uncertainty, if not fear. And it will require of us everything we’ve got: resources, patience, creativity, even faith. And not just for another week or two, but for months to come.

    But April 30 is not the time to declare victory, because we have just started to fight back. And if we focus our attention to the hotbeds which are Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Calabarzon and maybe the Davao Region, I am hopeful that we will be able to turn the tide in a month’s time.

    For these areas, the ECQ has to remain for another 30 days – and hopefully not more.

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