Post-lockdown Decision

By Lucell Larawan

President Duterte and the local government units are facing a dilemma after the April 30 lockdown to avoid the spread of the COVID-19. What decision will the president  make?

If the president immediately cancels the lockdown in Luzon, it will turn its expended efforts, untold suffering and resources into waste. It costs billions of pesos for such ECQ stopping most business activities. What people have to endure in order to implement the ECQ are real. Many have already scrimped their meals while millions have been stranded in different places availing minimal help. This cancellation of ECQ goes against maintaining social distancing until the vaccine is available—a practice which must be emphasized according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. These factors tell us that president Duterte might not choose an immediate total cancellation of the ECQ.

What if the decision after April 30 is to continue the ECQ? I am worried about what president Duterte said that this quarantine will continue until the cure is available. That will take one year and eight months, more or less, if God allows. Yet the people in the verge of riot might be forced to become unruly because of hunger. Even this time, I have heard of desperate families in my province whose sustenance only depends on the government’s three kilos of rice and three sardines for each family. Many of the starving citizens will die. Many survivors will suffer posttraumatic stress disorder beyond the capability of the hospitals and clinics to handle.

Only the well-heeled might be able to sustain a few years of lockdown, if lucky, but how long will they last? The 10 percent elites in the population might not also maintain their sanity for such a duration. They will start to hallucinate, too. Prolonging the lockdown, therefore, cannot be an option because it is too short-sighted.

Both of the two extreme options mentioned above are deadly. So where can we go? With the scenario we are facing, we seem to choose between two plagues—death through infection or through starvation. The former is immediate; the latter more gradual.

To deal with the crisis, leaders must be very decisive these days. They must not give in to the silo thinking of different experts who insist on their respective fields’ wisdom while ignoring the other disciplines. Medical experts may make people healthy for two more weeks, but afterwards, create a mare’s nest from social unrest. On the other hand, economists may encourage business activities along with exploding contagion leading to thousands of deaths. In a time of uncertainties, leaders should make bold moves based on well-thought strategies that give weight to all expert recommendations. Nevertheless, they must tailor their decisions to create more robust strategies. I wish the Inter-Agency Task Force did not make sloppy decisions as they face an unfamiliar enemy.

The University of the Philippines and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies have given us options to implement ECQ without paralyzing the economy. These institutions recommend that we adopt a gradual transition to a risk-based strategy.

The UP scientists emphasize that we should use scientific data to measure the effectiveness of the pandemic control strategies. One method is the use of case fatality rate. According to the said experts, it is now equal to 5.38 percent with a reproduction number of 0.6398. The country’s COVID-19 control measures are deemed effective based on this test.

Since a prolonged ECQ can drain the economy, UP suggests a graduated activation of ECQ depending on the level of risk for a province. This is based on how far the people in a province are to an estimated outbreak threshold. This means that only the provinces whose number of cases is less than 75 percent of estimated outbreak threshold should stop the ECQ. Such provinces, however, must continue the information campaign, physical distancing, testing and contact tracing.

The recommendation of UP is reasonable. Bohol, for instance, does not have a confirmed case after the COVID-19-infected Chinese from Wuhan recovered last January 28 and returned to China. The number of people under monitoring (PUM) and people under investigation (PUI) is getting smaller. Those who went to the province through illegal means via pump boats—only very few of them– were arrested and isolated. If I were the leader, I will not anymore continue the community quarantine in Bohol. Instead, I will just prevent sea vessels and airlines from coming in and out, except those that carry goods. I will just maintain the physical distancing and the reporting of PUI and PUM. At the same time, I will tighten more the security of the shorelines to strengthen the implementation of an executive order that bans the entry of people from other provinces. Maybe spend at least P5 million to watch the shores round-the-clock? This is the least a fighting province can do.

If a province having less than 75 percent estimated outbreak threshold continues the ECQ, the cost of too much caution is quite high. The economy has already been dormant for more than a month. Bad decisions will worsen the situation. We cannot afford to let our fellow men starve and die because of paranoia.

Also understand that a plague will not just go away by happenstance or by expert opinions. We wonder why looking at the curves of epidemics and pandemics, we still  gasp for answers.

The plagues in the Bible are clearly the result of sin. Only if people repent and pray will people go off the hook (read the Bible in 2 Chronicles 7: 13-14).

He is “a God who relents from sending calamity (Jonah 4: 2).”

If our leaders understand the impact of divine displeasure or pleasure, they must act immediately. Maybe it is time for them to declare a prayer and fasting season like what the people of Nineveh did in response to Jonah who declared, “forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” When Jonah prophesied, all the Ninevites humbled themselves through the command of their king. We read further: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (Jonah 3: 10).”  The plague did not come because they acted wisely.

How Nineveh escaped its doom gives insights to Filipinos and the rest of the world. Now is the time to try bold moves.

There are no atheists in foxholes or pandemics.