Heed the UPSE recommendations
The faculty members of the UP School of Economics (UPSE) are galvanized into united action when crises of primordial national importance arise. It first impressed itself on the public mind when, in June 1984, it came up with a workshop report, “An Analysis of the Philippine Economic Crisis,” detailing the history and the underlying causes of the collapse of the Philippine economy under Marcos, and proposing alternatives that the country could take. The objective was to give the Filipino people a knowledge and understanding of economic affairs that would inform their decision-making process. Fast forward to 2004, when the Philippines was experiencing a fiscal crisis, and the UPSE faculty members, again in their personal capacity, came out with “The Deepening Crisis: The Real Score on Deficits and the Public Debt.” Both times, either the public or the government sat up, took notice, and acted.
Now comes 2020, and the UPSE faculty—Dean Orville Solon is the principal author (in his personal capacity)—got together again, coming out with two related papers, one titled “A Sectoral View of Lifting the Lockdown and the Use of Sample-based Random Testing,” which was a sequel to another paper, “Surviving the Lockdown and Beyond.” Clearly, the crisis it is addressing is the public health and economic problems resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
These papers come about at the right time—because two days ago, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on COVID-19 came up with Resolution No. 30, outlining the omnibus guidelines on the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and the general community quarantine (GCQ), including which sectors can now operate in the economy. This is precisely the subject matter of the UPSE papers.
But alas, this time, the government (IATF) seems to have ignored some—not all, you understand—very important recommendations of the UPSE. This is what scares me.
What exactly does the UPSE paper(s) recommend? They argue that lifting quarantine restrictions should be in lockstep with the preparedness of the health system to face the disease, both geographically and sectorally.
They then propose principles and parameters for how sectors can be organized and ECQ restrictions lifted from them accordingly. (They assume that, in the best case, a stable long-term scenario may come about only 18 months from now when a vaccine is expected to be available. Until then, intermittent but limited lockdowns will remain a possibility.)
Their proposal includes a mechanism by which these decisions can be made based on more rigorous information. But the precondition to all these is, barangay systems to control the spread of the virus must be in place as well as the health protocols for the operation of mass transportation systems.
They then organize sectors along two dimensions: how vital is the sector to sustaining the economy over the next 18 months (high or low), and how much social contact do occupations have on the job (high-risk spreader or low-risk spreader). So sectors could be classified as either Cluster A ( low-risk, low importance); Cluster B (low-risk, high importance); Cluster C (high-risk, low importance); and Cluster D (high-risk, high importance).
They then describe the protocols that must be in place so that mobility restrictions may be lifted (in A, B, and D, because in C, restrictions on mobility are kept). The most important of this is the use of sample-based random testing (which is why it’s in the title of the paper). This is surveillance testing (of the population) as distinguished from what the government is currently doing, which is diagnostic testing.
Why do we need surveillance testing? Because as the economy restarts, we need a reliable way to track how COVID-19 is behaving in the population. We will be able to reliably gauge (a) if the curve is “flattening,” (b) whether and when the second and third waves of infection may occur, and (c) the extent of “herd” or community immunity. This information will provide some level of safety and assurance to households, firms, and LGUs as the economy restarts.
Unfortunately, the IATF Resolution 30 does not mention any sample-based random testing.
(To be continued)
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