Last week, the government, through the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), extended, for the third time, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) it has imposed in Metro Manila, as well as in Laguna and Cebu, pointing out that cases of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) remain high in these areas that pose serious threat to public health.
It has, however, “modified” the lockdown, allowing malls to open May 16 and giving the green light for select businesses to resume operations at half their capacity, provided health protocols (face masks, social distancing, temperature checks) are strictly implemented.
In the past two months, a few incidents showed people getting out of their homes in groups—the poor lining up for hours under the sun to get food and cash aid, the middle class crowding around a restaurant to buy cake for Mother’s Day, and, in one instance, causing traffic when a popular coffee chain opened for takeout.
Yet city residents in general would rather follow the extended quarantine, even as they expressed disappointment that mass testing won’t happen. Last May 17, the Department of Health (DOH) announced that employees are not required to undergo a coronavirus test before returning to work. (To know more about COVID-19 tests, see “Rapid test kits are like toss-coin exercises” by Dr. Rafael Castillo, page C1, April 21.)
No solid plan
“I agree with the decision to extend the quarantine. But it is unacceptable that mass testing will not happen shortly. The quarantine only works with testing, tracing, isolation and treatment. It is not a stand-alone solution. In fact, it is rendered useless because of the inaction on mass testing,” said TV-film actor Sandy Aloba.
“It should be the last extension,” said a businessman who requested anonymity. “The numbers do not support any sort of flattening of the curve, but also, anecdotally, there is no widespread contagion or deaths from the disease. So, this last extension should be just that—the last. A gradual loosening of the quarantine would “test the waters,” which is probably a safe way to restart the economy, given that there is no mass testing yet.”
But Alvi Siongco, an art director, thinks the quarantine extension was wrong: “I don’t agree, simply because what the government wanted to fulfill in testing was not achieved. There were simply not enough testing done to get a clearer picture on the numbers affected by the virus, so quarantine rules are useless.”
Anton Chua, sales and marketing manager of a software development firm, said: “My concern is that the measures taken to control the spread of the virus have been inadequate so far. Mass testing has not been going as fast as we’d like to. The quarantine duration keeps getting moved—first to April 30, then May 15, now May 31. And it seems like there is no solid plan to get anything done.
“Besides the need to have mass testing now, I do note that the social amelioration program might not be enough for some families, and the distribution hasn’t been effective, either.”
Businesswoman Mia Poblador said, “It is not the best decision, but since the government cannot provide testing, contact tracing, isolation/quarantine, I feel extending the ECQ to May 31 is the only option left.”
The chef of a three-branch group of restaurants felt frustration: “Do we have a choice? It’s either try to keep the new cases down by lockdown or have some economic activity, but the virus spreads even further. Selfishly, I would agree (to the quarantine extension). Luckily, the company I work for is still operational and I am getting a salary, so surely I wouldn’t mind. But it’s hard not to think about the less fortunate who don’t have any income. The casuals, the no-work-no-pay, the market vendors, etc.”
Way too soon
An advertising executive harped on the need for mass testing: “Yes to extension, pero ang labo ng walang mass testing. They’ll be blindly sending the public back to work without any data kung safe o hindi. Anyway, it’s way too soon. It’s like nag-comply lang tayo para makiuso. It’s not likely that the virus will just get up and leave if we ignore it.”
Divina D. Santos, who runs a public relations firm, said: “The public has already done its part, painstakingly went through two months in lockdown.
What is an additional two weeks if it would save lives, but they have to see the result of their sacrifices, too. Is the curve already flattening? Are we already doing mass testing? At the rate this is going, the government imposes moving deadlines, but is not being clear what the basis is, rules keep changing, and worst of all, they are being violated even by government officials themselves.”
She noted that “the IATF has it all figured out—on paper. It is so nice to hear them lay out their plans of test, trace, treat—but are they really being implemented efficiently, effectively, promptly, consistently and massively? But first, mass testing is key. Test is the initial step in IATF’s wonderful presentation.”
Chuck Manansala, who works in corporate training and business consultancy, suggested that “the IATF should shift their focus to launching a massive and sustained information, education and training campaign to make people practice hygiene protocols for preventing the spread of the virus and avoiding getting infected. The control apparatus of police measures should play a secondary role. There has to be an infrastructure of testing, tracing, treating and isolation.’”
Meanwhile, Dr. Tito Rotaeche Garcia III, a cosmetic surgeon, said that the quarantine was bad for his profession: “Beauty enhancement occupied the lowest position in the list of priorities of my patients during the lockdown. However, it gave me time to catch up on my reading, and I have learned to cook to the level of competence that’s making me think of going into the food business, if I don’t get enough bookings for boob and nose jobs after this pandemic has gone past us.” INQ