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Allow people the freedom to earn a living

/ 05:05 AM April 18, 2020

The responsibility for surviving the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately lies with the Filipino people, not the Philippine government. The government, having been set up by the people, is tasked with helping to protect the people, by means of scientific, intelligent, and credible guidance and assistance. COVID-19 is extremely contagious and deadly dangerous, especially to the elderly, ailing, and infirm; though a lucky or physically hardy few have survived. It has no cure or vaccine yet; it may take 1-2 years for scientists to develop them.

All over the world, events with mass audiences of people physically together, like the Olympics, have been quickly cancelled, without need for governmental action. The organizers, the participants, and the general public spontaneously called for the cancellations, having agreed that they are a logical response to the pandemic.

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In our country, the immediate need is for all Filipinos to avoid contracting, and avoid spreading, COVID-19: using face masks/shields outside the home, keeping distance from others, constantly washing the hands, and constantly sanitizing items likely to be touched. My personal guess is that very many of the Filipino people already know these things, and readily act accordingly. Social Weather Stations will do scientific surveys on these matters as soon and as regularly as it can.

It is only persons who are infected, and those known as contacts of COVID-19 carriers, who need to be quarantined. COVID-19 testing does not cure the carriers, but only identifies them so as to prevent them from infecting others. Persons who are asymptomatic, and untested, do not deserve to be universally quarantined.

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The main defect of the government’s lockdown policy, or perhaps the way it is frequently being implemented on the ground, is that it has points that do not really jibe with the above prescriptions, and therefore lack inherent pandemic-logic.

Unnecessary restrictions on personal movement. As long as persons wear face masks and keep adequate distance from each other, it does not make sense to inhibit them from moving across barangays, cities, or provinces within Luzon. The mere act of moving across a boundary does not imply the act of crowding. Checkpoints do not make sense; in fact, they promote crowding by creating queues where there were none.

Curfews do not make sense; in fact, being able to go somewhere at night lessens the need for it during the day. Use barangay tanods or even Boy Scouts, not armed policemen, to discourage partying. A one-entrance-one-exit policy does not make sense; in fact, having multiple entrances and exits for a public place makes it easier to keep one’s distance. Limiting the hours of groceries or banks does not make sense; in fact, the longer the hours, the shorter the queues (like at outdoor automated teller machines).

Public transportation does not have to be crowded. Trains, buses, taxis, jeepneys, and even tricycles can all be modified/configured to carry only as many face-masked passengers as will allow physical distancing (see “Restore jeepneys and tricycles,” Opinion, 3/21/20). Let associations of transport operators develop their own protocols for disinfecting their vehicles, and screening passengers for symptoms. Let them extend their operating hours—the more hours per day, the less the crowding. Let them adjust transport fares accordingly, and count on free and fair competition to keep them reasonable. As it is now, the riding public will be limiting their use of public transport.

Let occupational groups find ways to operate and also observe physical distancing. With the use of face masks and shields, client screening, disinfecting, configuration of premises, and adjustment of business hours, there are ways for dental clinics, barbershops, salons, repair shops, exercise gyms, etc. to operate without compromising public health. Let them do their own protocols, without requiring approval from any agency. As it is now, their clientele will be limited.

A time of pandemic does not require any official determination of “essential” versus “non-essential” products, services, or occupations. What is truly essential is for the people to be able to freely earn a living.

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