Last week I wrote about Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) composed of several of the country’s medical associations, pushing for a more science-based prevention program, particularly the need to give more attention to problems of air flow or ventilation.
Air flow or ventilation is given so little attention despite its being a major factor in viral transmission, pointed out as early as March 2020 (note, a year ago) by the Japanese and then later by Western scientists.
The neglect of ventilation issues has meant that quarantine continued to emphasize lock-in measures, which, at this stage of the pandemic with all kinds of very contagious variants, means locking in communities, mainly urban poor, with the virus.
Finally, some of HPAAC‘s advice is now being given attention. Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Resolution No. 104 spells out quarantine measures for the next two weeks, covering all of Metro Manila plus Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, and Rizal in an effort to bring down rising COVID-19 infections.
The new order provides for quarantine with breathing space. For example, the new order does not allow restaurants to offer dine-in services because, rightly so, it’s easier for the virus to circulate indoors. But the order does allow take out and dine out, meaning eating al fresco, outdoors, still with physical distancing and barriers.
The order also states that outdoor non-contact sports and other forms of outdoor exercises are allowed now for most demographic groups, including people above 65 years of age, and persons with disability. This is long overdue. Being outdoors is essential not just for exercise but also to get sunlight (free vitamin D!) and fresh air, and to socialize, even at a distance.
A letdown though is the new order forbids anyone below 18 from going outdoors, even for exercise. This reverses the government’s own lowering of restrictions on children down to 15 years only a few weeks ago.
No less than the Philippine office of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has spoken out after the Metro Manila Council first imposed the new restriction on children, now extended by the IATF to neighboring provinces.
Unicef warned about harmful effects on young people’s “well-being” and urges the government to allow children of all age groups “to exercise and perform non-contact sports activities” with public health measures.
Do an internet search and you will find all kinds of studies that have been published, as well as statements from children’s advocacy groups, pediatricians, mental health professionals, all warning about prolonged restriction of children’s movements.
Most striking was an article published in the journal Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, warning about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorders) found in 30 percent of children and 25 percent of parents surveyed after quarantine.
The article was published in 2013, long before COVID-19. The researchers were looking at families affected by quarantines connected to H1N1 in the US and Mexico, and by SARS in Canada. If adverse psychosocial effects were found for those much shorter quarantines, it would be far worse for COVID-19 as is being seen in some reports coming out from studies in countries like Spain, Italy, and China.
Last year, Spain’s first lockdown included strict confinement of children indoors and as the restrictions were prolonged, parents and health professionals began to protest, citing disturbing changes in their children’s behavior. The government finally relented, allowing children out, accompanied by their parents, for a few hours each day. Spain’s restrictions lasted less than two months and applied only to children below 14. We’ve had ours for more than a year now, and for most of that year, on children below 18.
China, with the one of the most intensive lockdowns last year at least issued, almost immediately after, orders to health professionals and social workers around children’s mental health, including 24/7 hotlines, comic book and videos on COVID-19, and even “little gifts like night lights.”
This latest clampdown on Filipino children could not come at a worse time, with classes just ended and the kids looking forward to a summer of outdoor fun. The few outdoor recreational areas that recently reopened are now closed again.
Many Filipinos who were still children during martial law had no idea of the oppressiveness of the regime with one exception: Marcos banning Voltes V because of violence in the cartoon (never mind the real violence outside of TV).
Today’s COVID-19 children will have far harsher memories of the summer of 2021, when they were ordered locked in and put in harm’s way not just for psychosocial problems but for COVID-19 itself.
Let’s keep moving toward a more scientific quarantine, for everyone’s sake.
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.