COVID-19 has killed more than 7,300 Filipinos, but pneumonia has killed close to 58,000. Yet we don’t lock down for pneumonia. Let me hasten to say this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have gone into quarantine for COVID-19. We should, it was the right decision. But a little perspective wouldn’t hurt.
Heart diseases killed more than 88,000 in 2018, based on latest data available from the Department of Health. Cancer killed more than 60,000 Filipinos. Dengue killed 1,107 from January to August 2019, and these were mostly children — the ones we most don’t want to die — and there’s a vaccine for dengue but the Philippines doesn’t use it. It is the only country that doesn’t. What this all says is that we shouldn’t be basing COVID-19 decisions on stopping COVID-19 deaths, but on bringing it to a controllable level where those suffering from COVID-19 can be treated down to a point where health care workers can work normal hours, where hospital beds are not full of COVID-19 patients, and where other diseases, including elective ones, can be accommodated.
COVID-19 is going to be with us a long time. My best guess is that we won’t have it sufficiently under control, with enough Filipinos vaccinated, until 2022. Dr. Anthony Fauci also thinks it will not be until late 2021 or into 2022. And that’s for the US, where they’re more organized than us. So to make decisions, as the IATF is apparently doing, based on an early vaccine and an end to this pandemic will result in a far worse situation than it could be.
We still haven’t signed any purchase agreements for a vaccine. Other countries have, so we’ll not only be left behind, we may also not even get a vaccine in enough volume at all. Manufacturers are going to be stretched thin meeting the enormous demand.
It’s tough to say, and it may sound heartless, but bringing the country back to (new) normal operations is what’s now needed. Doing so may result in continuing COVID-19 deaths, but it will result in fewer deaths from other diseases as they can now be treated. This will lead to less malnutrition and death from it as people recover their incomes.
We’re a basketball-crazy nation—without the height to justify it. Well, it’s going to get worse, with 29 percent of kids stunted. We’ll have to lower the basket. Worse, lack of protein leads to lack of brain development. Too many of this generation of kids will have lower cognitive skills in an IT world that will demand more brain power. Online learning forced by COVID-19 is worsening the situation. Schools need to reopen, but with the maximum of care — masks, hand-washing, distancing, and testing. School opening needs to be decided not in a blanket manner but school by school. Schools where risks exist should be kept closed. If a specified number of cases erupts, a school should immediately be closed and the families placed in quarantine.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua estimates that some P1.1 trillion will be lost due to the pandemic till end December. Much of that should be money in people’s pockets; much of that should be from businesses back in business. We have to get the economy back on track, moving to open up with only minimum restrictions in those limited areas where protection still makes sound sense, especially for people most at risk such as the elderly and those with underlying ailments that make them susceptible.
We’ve seen our economy fall from a 6-plus percent growth to an over 9-percent drop. Millions are out of a job and more than 90,000 businesses remain closed, according to the Department of Trade and Industry — a huge number of them permanently. We can’t go on like this for another year or two.
Something I don’t understand, and perhaps someone can explain to me: Why do we, and elsewhere in the world, have curfews? Surely it’s better to spread people over as many hours as possible. Have businesses start at 2 a.m. if they want to, so we can reduce rush hour to a more manageable level.
Some 18 million low-income households are experiencing financial difficulties. In the Asean, we are the worst, alongside Indonesia (why are we so often the worst in any comparative measure?).
We’re in dire economic straits. It’s time to seek a balance — to look at COVID-19 within the context of the whole of society, and decide on actions to take based on the impact on that society.
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