Health versus economics
The war against the coronavirus is being fought on two battlefronts — health and economics. As mankind waits for a vaccine which is the ultimate weapon in this war, governments all over the world are scrambling to deploy the right balance of defenses in these two battlefields. It’s a very delicate job: Employ too many health defenses, and the people will suffer on the economic field; utilize too many economic arsenals, and people will suffer on the health front.
Those in the health sector naturally want our government to employ stringent health solutions, while people in the economic sector are logically calling on the government to shore up economic solutions.
The task of government is to provide a bridge between health and economics. The bridge between these two fields is not some elaborate formula but pure and simple empathy. Our country will get the right mix of health and economic remedies if our government exerts effort to sincerely understand the difficulties faced by its people. The current administration has unfortunately exhibited serious deficiency in empathy, which explains why it commits missteps and why it ends up prescribing unnecessarily harsh solutions.
Take for example the government directive to impose curfew hours from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Metro Manila and other cities. What these curfew directives aim to avoid, it horribly enables instead — a massing up of people. A curfew forces working people to cram into severely limited public transport during rush hours in the morning and during rush hours again in the late afternoon. It forces people to congregate in big numbers in work areas during a limited time span during the day.
A curfew prohibits flexible work schedules that could help employees avoid crowded public transport and packed workplaces. Without curfews, employees can be given the leeway to work on shifts like 12 noon to 8 p.m. or similar time slots that will enable them to avoid the daily mad rush.
Instead of a curfew on people, the government should consider a curfew on business establishments by mandating the closure of malls, restaurants, and bars from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. This will prevent the unnecessary congregation of people at night, but will still enable people to go to work at time slots when the crowd is sparse.
There’s also a need to convey the view of a layman with a provincial vantage point. This is in relation to the issue of the total denigration being made on rapid diagnostic tests, and the strong push by some government departments and doctors urging the total abandonment of rapid tests, and advocating the complete shift to the more expensive RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test. In an ideal world, their position is correct because an RT-PCR test is superior to a rapid test, as doctors affirm. Sadly, the fiction of an ideal world is not in our midst.
The realities on the ground are as follows: At P5,000 to P8,000 per test, the RT-PCR test is very expensive for a large majority of ordinary people, business companies, and cash-strapped local government units, especially if it’s going to be a required test on a periodic basis. For all the higher expense that it entails, an RT-PCR test is also not a 100-percent foolproof test, and its result only reflects a person’s lack of infection up to the time of testing. The moment a person steps out of the testing area, he/she can get infected with the virus and become an asymptomatic “spreader,” rendering his just-administered RT-PCR test a useless expense. Moreover, in many provinces, an RT-PCR test is not accessible because it is restrictively allowed only for those who are already exhibiting symptoms or who had tested positive in a rapid test.
In the provinces, there’s a dire need to harness even the limited usefulness of a rapid test, because having a rapid test is better than not having any test at all. Just like a pregnancy test, however, it must be administered with loud and clear warnings, such as to rely more on the presence of symptoms and to strictly observe quarantine rules even when the result is negative.
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