Key decision-makers in government and the private sector are divided on what to do after the one-month enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ends on April 14 in Metro Manila, and two days earlier in Luzon. Some are pushing for an outright extension of at least two more weeks, while others are pressing the government to ease the lockdown, especially in the metropolis.
While everyone agrees that the primary concern remains controlling the spread of the COVID-19 disease and that science will play the primary role in determining the course of action to take, everyone also agrees that this should not come at exorbitant cost, especially for the low-income class and the poor, or even the ordinary wage earners who have suddenly found themselves out of jobs because of the ECQ in Luzon.
In coming up with a decision on what to do after the month-long quarantine ends, a middle ground looks to be the best solution moving forward. It is possible to control the spread of the viral disease without choking the food supply or putting tens of thousands of people out of work.
What appears to have caused a lot of problems in the first two weeks of the lockdown has been a hugely inefficient bureaucracy. The Department of Health had a hard time distributing needed medical supplies. The Department of Social Welfare and Development is even now bogged down by problems identifying the 18 million beneficiaries of the cash assistance mandated by the Bayanihan law passed to address the public health crisis.
Much-needed medical equipment and supplies are being held at different ports by the Bureau of Customs. Even the Department of Energy has complained about petroleum delivery trucks getting stranded at checkpoints of local government units (LGUs).
The government has sounded off on the likelihood of an extension of the quarantine, based on advice from the World Health Organization that lifting the lockdown prematurely may undermine the aim of “flattening the curve” and containing the disease. With that possibility getting bigger by the day as the ECQ enters its fourth and supposedly final week, what should be ensured is that while the movement of people remains restricted, access to essential goods and services is unhampered, and more factories and businesses are gradually allowed to reopen and rehire people.
One suggestion has been to shift from a Luzon-wide lockdown to a barangay-based quarantine, with clear rules and guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force handling the fight versus COVID-19. The aim is to allow free movement in the supply chain, especially of food and other basic goods, with no need for security checkpoints and truck passes.
The focus of the security measures should be in the affected barangay. This setup would be workable in tandem with the government’s announced plan to begin mass testing to determine the extent of the virus crisis in the country.
However, certain restrictions need to remain in force: the use of face masks by everyone when leaving the house, the ban on mass gatherings and observance of physical distancing, and the continued closure of malls and leisure places for now.
There should also be more private sector involvement in these measures. If there are problems in logistics and delivery, the government can seek private expertise from experts such as LBC Corp. or 2Go Inc. For communication issues on reaching citizens and keeping them informed, Globe and PLDT can be tapped for assistance.
At the same time, many micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have been forced to stop operations and even lay off workers because of the strict border controls imposed by many LGUs. The private sector can step in to fill the gap, especially in the case of agri-fishery MSMEs that are finding it difficult to deliver their produce to Metro Manila consumers.
Expanding the Kadiwa store system of the Department of Agriculture will also be a big help to these small entrepreneurs.
The country can look to the experience of Scandinavian Airlines, which partnered with a private firm to retrain many of its laid-off crew — who already had training in dealing with emergencies and critical situations—as frontline workers. Perhaps Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Air Asia Philippines, all beleaguered at this time by the crisis that has particularly hit the travel industry, can look into a similar arrangement for its personnel.
While stopping the spread of the virus is of paramount concern, equally important is ensuring that all the people affected by the lockdown have access to basic necessities, especially food, and that the country’s economy is able to survive the pandemic.
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.