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Double Down on Protocols, Not Lockdown

It has been almost 7 months since the government imposed a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was March 15 when a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) was first implemented. Since then we have experienced ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine), MECQ (Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine), and MGCQ (Modified General Community Quarantine). Regardless of the acronyms, the fact is that it has devastated our people’s health and livelihood.


The lockdown has caused hardships on our people and slowed down the fastest-growing economy in the region. It has cost people their jobs. Data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) revealed that more than 3.5 million workers have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic with over 200,000 Filipinos who “permanently” lost their source of income.


Meanwhile, there are currently close to 8 million people (as of October 4) globally who are infected with the coronavirus disease but notably, 1% are considered serious or critical and 99% have mild symptoms. The Philippines has over 58,000 active cases with 1,758 cases considered serious or critical.


Our experience with the pandemic and the lockdown has taught us two very important imperatives: (1) we need to strengthen our health capabilities in order to confront the threat of the coronavirus, and (2) we need to learn how to live with the virus in order to allow our economy to recover.


I read a very interesting article in the New York Times which quoted the health minister of Italy — the first European country to impose a national lockdown and one of the very first hardest-hit countries in the world — as saying that “we are in a living-with-the-virus phase.” Roberto Speranza added that though a “zero infection rate does not exist, we are now far better equipped to handle a surge in infections.”


This is the capability that we need to harness. All levels and agencies of government need to switch to the “living-with-the-virus” mode. This is because as the Italian minister emphatically proclaimed, “there is not going to be another lockdown.” And the only way we can get rid of the lockdown which has paralyzed our economy is to apply what we have learned and implement them strictly.


This means national and local governments need to strictly impose the wearing of face masks, the practice of social distancing especially in areas that tend to be crowded, and more importantly, the provision of more resources so that agencies can test, isolate, and trace the coronavirus. We cannot sit by and be reactive. We need to be able to react quickly to surge in infections locally.


This is especially critical now that government has plans to gradually reopen important aspects of the economy. The government has recently announced that it will gradually reopen the country’s tourist destinations to local tourists. This follows the path of Baguio City and Boracay which opened to local visitors with health restrictions in place to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.


I support this gradual, step-by-step plan to reopen tourism. This will certainly help people and communities whose livelihoods are reliant on local and foreign tourism. The key element here is that implementing agencies need to double down on health protocols. And the government needs people’s cooperation in this regard.


“Living with the virus” means we need the public to develop habits based on health and safety protocols — wear our face masks properly especially if there are other people near us, even if we are in a hurry make sure that we keep our distance, avoid touching surfaces, and touching our faces.


It has been like a long nightmare and we just want to wake up. But it’s not as easy as waking up and it will be all over. The virus is here to stay. We need to wake up to a whole new world, not on lockdown, but with people working together to outlive this health menace.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar