Paco A. Pangalangan, Executive Director, Stratbase ADR Institute
During times like these, it’s hard not to feel uncertain. It is only natural to seek out information that helps us understand our situation and determine our options.
It’s why we stay up late for President Rodrigo Duterte’s late-night public addresses. We want to hear the latest updates and next steps to flatten the curve, plans to keep us safe, when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) will finally be lifted, and hear plans to jump-start the economy. Unfortunately, the government has missed several critical cues. For example, back in January when there was news of a deadly virus spreading in China. In February when the first locally transmitted COVID-19 case was recorded. In March when Luzon was placed under ECQ. Or when the ECQ was first extended.
With the ECQ again extended until the 15th of May, the government again has a chance. Thankfully, this time, it seems the government has a few answers to offer us.
Alongside the announcement of the extended ECQ in Metro Manila and a general community
quarantine (GCQ) in other areas, the government also announced the launch of public-private Task Force T3 (Test, Trace, and Treat). This new initiative brought together the Asian Development Bank (ADB), The Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, the Philippine National Red Cross. and private sector participants: AC Health/Qualimed, Unilab, and the MPIC Hospital Groups, to support the Government’s efforts to swiftly expand testing. From the current level of approximately 4,500 per day, the initiative plans to raise this to at least 30,000 tests per day by May 30.
According to the Department of Health, the expansion of the country’s testing is critical in managing COVID-19 and determining when the ECQ can be modified in selected locations and sectors. So for the first time in a long time, we’ve been given a glimpse of the target metrics that the government evaluates when it comes to lifting the lockdown.
We need more information like this. Filipinos want to know about what the government has done, the response process and what they plan to do next. Furthermore, we want to know what the government knows about the pandemic and what it is doing to find out what it doesn’t. Credible information can calm people down and helps control public order.
There are still a ton of other questions that need to be answered.
Since the ECQ in several areas was extended again, what guidelines are in place to ensure a stable food supply? While under ECQ, businesses have been closed and the movement of goods into the region has been tightened. Now into our second month under lockdown, how long will existing supplies last and shelves remain stocked if the ecosystem of growers, processors, transporters, and suppliers is either shut down or slowed down? We need the free flow of goods from agro-industrial facilities in the provinces to businesses in Metro Manila to ensure essential food items are available.
For those of us quarantined or working from home, we wonder if we will continue to have access to the public utilities that we’ve increasingly come to rely on. What efforts are being made to ensure power and telecommunication services are maintained during the lockdown? How long will the current supply of spare parts for the repair of busted power lines or conked out cell towers last without parts?
By the looks of it, we are in for the long haul. There is no certainty that the ECQ will be lifted in two weeks. Not with the steady number of new cases coming out every day. As the government increases its testing capacity, these numbers are sure to rise further.
We cannot stay on pause and wait for things to go back to normal. Whether we like it or not, this is the new normal and we all have to do our part to make it work.
The individual citizen needs to stay calm, stay healthy, and remain at home. They should help their community and ensure government programs are implemented as they should be. Businesses have their part to do. They must get ready to start-up again soon, but with better health and safety guidelines in place. After all, people need to go back to work. If daily wage earners can generate income, the government can reallocate more resources to improving the public health system and other vulnerable sectors of society.
However, as individual citizens and business do their part, the government has to do its part as well. As the main responder to this crisis, the government must provide Filipinos and businesses alike with the information that helps them understand and weigh their options. It has the information that can help us regain some sense of control in this chaotic situation. So please share!
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.