A calibrated easing of restrictions
Over the past two weeks, the government and people have learned to make the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) work, through piecemeal problem-solving using the successive approximations approach. Social media has facilitated the learning process by serving as a comprehensive and instantaneous feedforward and feedback mechanism. But the government and people have learned the tactical quarantine dance steps without much attention to the intended outcomes.
The lack of data makes projections and planning difficult. There has been a dutiful reporting of the COVID-19 statistics—PUMs, PUIs, positive cases, deaths, recoveries. However, these statistics may not reflect the actual situation, because not enough purposive and random testing has been done to be able to characterize the entire population in terms of extent, trends, and patterns of infection, morbidity, and mortality.
It is not as if there are no proxy indicators, but so far, there are no statistics on hospital admittance and deaths due to COVID-19 related illnesses, especially pneumonia and severe and acute respiratory illnesses. Hopefully, the incremental learning approach to mass testing will produce the data in time to answer the strategic question: Should the ECQ be extended?
Extending the ECQ beyond April 14 promotes life but endangers the economy. Ending the ECQ endangers lives but promotes the economy. There are few articulations of middle options. One that should be a conversation—or policy analysis—starter is the suggestion of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (www.fef.org.ph) of a calibrated easing of restrictions to allow a limited resumption of economic activity while retaining specific safeguards to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The package of measures consists of the following:
“1) Mandatory use of face masks for everybody. 2) Mandatory social distancing. This is necessary even if it limits capacities and reduces efficiency; it may be eased or made more stringent as the situation dictates. It should be enforced aggressively for all activities. 3) Allow public transport with disinfection measures before and after every trip. The lack of public transport is particularly injurious to the poor and harms public health. 4) Remove checkpoints between LGUs and allow the free movement of all goods with disinfection measures before and after every trip. 5) No car-sharing except for passengers from the same origin. 6) Encourage work-from-home arrangements and staggered working hours.
“7) Hard lockdown for certain barangays or neighborhoods which are identified as hotspots. 8) Continue quarantine of seniors and immunocompromised individuals. 9) Continue ban on mass gatherings of any kind including classes, religious gatherings, or public events. 10) Allow factories and offices to reopen but continue ban on congregations of more than 10. 11) Stagger working hours when appropriate. Allow the operation of essential stores like hardware stores, supermarkets, groceries, and the like. 12) Temperature-taking at hotels, malls, and workplaces. Install hand sanitizer stations strategically in all malls and buildings. Install hand-washing stations where possible. 13) Build quickly for surge capacity: temporary COVID-specialized hospitals in all regions and quarantine hotels to house PUIs and PUMs.
“14) Mobilize the private sector to produce face masks and personal protective equipment, and to use supply chain connections to import ventilators and other medical equipment. 15) Encourage the private sector (particularly large corporations) to provide financial and other assistance to the effort, as well as to continue payment of salaries to their employees. 16) Ensure that all LGUs implement a uniform policy on checkpoints and curfews as mandated by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). 17) Where and whenever possible, do mass testing or random testing to give valuable data for decision points. 18) Continue the all-out support for our frontliners, particularly our heroic doctors, nurses and other health workers. 19) Weekly evaluation and assessment to further ease or dial up restrictions.”
These points are not only for consideration in government circles. It is all the more important for critical thinkers among the general public to understand, evaluate, project, and share the implications of these measures on the people’s lives. Tabletop simulations should be conducted on the options. This information will help government arrive at a well-informed decision. Note that citizen feedback has been crucial over the past two weeks; what has refined and streamlined the rough and inadequate rules that accompanied the initial proclamation of the lockdown was the verbal and behavioral feedback of citizens on these rules, and the adjustments and innovations that local governments have taken to make these rules workable.
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