COVID stats and delta variant: How translated into policy?

By Atty. Anfred P. Panes, LL.M.

(The author is the founding partner of A. Panes Law and a Professorial Lecturer of the University of San Agustin’s College of Law)

Are you one of those who recently got confused by a national pronouncement on the quarantine status of the province and the city of Iloilo? We share the same sentiment. Nevertheless, here goes. The quarantine classification of both the Iloilo Province and Iloilo City was once again declared by the national government. However, it entangled some confusion precipitated by social media updates from diverse sources, which is expected given the abrupt changes. People will have a lot to say, thus, premature and unverified information can be easily transmitted by those who are unwary.

The community needs preparation as much as the governing bodies do. While we give due acknowledgement to the national pronouncements whose authority we recognize in downgrading and elevating our quarantine status, it is but an essential consideration that the local government units (LGUs) must also be consulted especially in case of the highest quarantine classification, which in this case, is the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Such precedence was observed in March 2020 when Metro Manila LGUs were consulted with the ECQ status prior to its enforcement and implementation. We do not see such glaring inconvenience of cascading the matter to the LGUs in Region 6 before such pronouncement. While we are at shock and still confused, we have to move on and just await the local guidelines to be set by the LGUs.

On this note, visualizing by the data sourced from the Department of Health COVID-19 Tracker page, as of this writing, Quezon City recorded 108,966 COVID-19 cases and Davao City with 28,409 cases yet they are placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) classification. Cebu City with 27,541 cases is subjected to the lower status of Modified GCQ. However, Iloilo Province only recorded 15,476 and Iloilo City with 12,823 cases, yet these LGUs have been subjected to ECQ status. From the recent press release, it was said that such classification in Iloilo Province and Iloilo City was due to the two (2) delta variants recorded in the neighboring province of Antique. While we do not totally discredit the proven science of the rapid transmissibility of the delta variant, the soundness of reliance thereto in putting the province and the city of Iloilo under ECQ effective immediately, is wanting.

Nevertheless, the Omnibus Guidelines of the national task force do not preclude LGUs in Iloilo to exercise local autonomy to devise a more elaborate, people-oriented, and responsive to the existing needs of the bodypolitic, people, and the private sector. We understand the proactive response of the government in dealing with this pandemic. But it is with fervent hope that aside from the bi-monthly pronouncement of quarantine status, the government needs to be aggressive with a more results-based response, which is the vaccination. The status quo reflects that indeed vaccine roll outs are in place, which in the long run would help us achieve herd immunity.

It bears emphasizing that while we are not totally against stricter quarantine classification, we need to be apprised of the reasonability of such imposition as warranted by the scientific reasons and numbers and not just due to allegedly isolated case of new variants which has been claimed to have recovered a month ago in a different geographical location. Nonetheless, it is better to be proactive than be complacent given that our enemy is microscopic, thus, it makes us more at the disadvantage if we do not exercise vigilance on health protocols.

The quarantine classification is more than just an interpretation of number but also the projected capacity of the LGUs to handle the manageability of the situation. While we do not abhor these restrictions due to the inevitable adverse impact to employment and businesses which we have long fared through since the last year, sometimes it does not hurt to consider that sustainability of such impositions. Both the province and the city of Iloilo are aggressive with their vaccination drives in several sites – such is a commendable measure to curb down the numbers. It is a measure which is more results-based in the long run.  For now, we hope and pray for a much safer province and city of Iloilo and the neighboring provinces.