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Here We Go Again

A little over more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic caused a total lockdown of the National Capital Region and the entire island of Luzon, the so-called “NCR plus” bubble —composed of Metro Manila and four adjacent provinces — Rizal, Bulacan, Cavite, and Laguna have been placed, again, under enhanced community quarantine or ECQ from March 29 to April 4 due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. And while most would agree that this is a necessary step because of the unprecedented numbers, it has caused exasperation to some quarters. After one year of lockdown — albeit of different severity — people are understandably upset about the return of more strict restrictions to people’s mobility.

 

But the surge is real. The daily numbers are quite worrisome to be honest. As of press time, we have reached a record-high at close to 10,000 new daily cases. As of March 27, we have a total active case of 118,122 while the total cases have breached 700,000. What is alarming is the rate with which infections are increasing. Some attribute it to the new variants or to the fact that people have been lulled into a false sense of security but there is a need to work together in order to stop the rate of daily infections.

 

It is also important to put things into a bigger perspective given that this is a global pandemic. In terms of total cases, we are 30th in the world with a total of 712,442 cases. When it comes to daily cases, we are now 12th with Brazil (83,039), India (62,631) and the United States (59,266) on the top of this category. But when it comes to total cases per one million population we are 129th with 6,439 cases per one million population. These are numbers collated by Worldometer as of March 28.

 

These numbers are very instructive. In particular, the rate of cases per one million population tells us that while the daily surges are frightening, they are concentrated and should, theoretically, be much easier to address. In comparison, the US have multiple cities and states struggling with tremendous daily coronavirus cases. In the Philippines the cases are focused on NCR and cities located in nearby provinces.

 

The strategic implications are obvious. Those areas outside the “NCR plus bubble” should be able to have more mobility in terms of people and goods. This is also the reasoning behind government’s decision to center its intervention in the Greater Manila Area. The problem of course is the fact that most commerce are centered on the NCR accounting for about 70 percent of the entire economy.

 

This brings us to a very critical point. We need to learn from our experiences with the coronavirus and the lockdown. We cannot just ask people to stay at home every time we have surges in daily infections. In the long term, this is very damaging to our economy and the long-term livelihood of our people. Our economy will suffer long-term if we continue with this lockdown. We need to address the surge. And that means increased testing, better contact tracing and isolation strategies. Per Worldometer, we are 141st in terms of the number of testing per one million population. We need to do better.

 

Lockdowns will not solve the surge in COVID-19 cases unless we have an aggressive plan to test, trace and isolate. The experiences of Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia have clearly shown that this strategy is the most effective way to lower daily cases and therefore the fastest way towards reopening the economy and ‘normalizing’ our lives.

 

There is no point in assigning blame. In my experience, finger-pointing in the middle of a crisis has no merit nor benefit. What we need to do is understand what it takes to defeat this pandemic and work together in order to overcome this adversity. This means the government creating the proper environment in order for agencies and local governments to improve testing, contact tracing and isolation. This means the public following health protocols and staying at home in the next few days unless there is urgent or essential tasks to be done outside.

 

At the very least, we can use this time, which coincides with the Holy Week, to reflect and recharge our batteries.