Will 2021 be another write-off? (1)
I’ve been reluctant to comment further on the pandemic because everybody seems to have, and I’m far from any kind of expert. If you compare us to the rich world, we’re not doing so badly. Europe is worse, as is the United States and many other countries in the Americas (Brazil is a disaster) and Africa.
But with one year of varying levels of lockdown, and actions of one kind or another, we’ve ended up, together with Indonesia, with the worst record in Southeast Asia. And that’s where the real comparison must be made, so I feel I must.
The logical conclusion must be that something must be wrong with the way we’ve handled it. As of April 6, we have 152,562 active COVID-19 cases. Indonesia with a population twice more than ours at 275 million, has 114,566 active cases. Thailand, a comparable country, has 1,528 — one-tenth of ours. Vietnam has 191. On deaths from the virus, we’re behind Indonesia, 152 per million versus ours at 125. But Thailand is only 1.4, Vietnam 0.4.
It would seem obvious, wouldn’t it, that whatever we have done, or not done, has failed. I do not know what the reasons are, but from these numbers, it would seem the officials in charge don’t either. In my simple mind, I’d put a large part of it down to unavoidable crowding. If you live among the informal dwellers and in the slums, six inches’ separation is the norm; six feet is an impossibility. But Thailand has those slums, too, and they don’t approach anywhere near our numbers. So that can’t be all there is to the grim tally.
I’ve little doubt that without the lockdowns it would have been worse. So, to that extent they have been a success. But that can’t be the gauge; we can’t maintain lockdowns for another 12 months, and another 12 months after that. We have to eliminate the threat, or at least should have brought it to a manageable, easily controlled level.
More ECQs or MECQs or GCQs or whatever wouldn’t seem to be the only solutions that should be applied. I think we need better facts to determine what else should be done — a survey by a professional outfit to determine where the virus is originating from, why it is originating from there, how is it spreading. Is it the slums or the rich enclaves, or public transport, or office mingling, or markets, or the continued ingress and egress of OFWs possibly bringing new strains into the country? What are the causes? We need to know. The IATF should hire research/survey experts to interview and examine, and find out where the weaknesses lie. We need better facts to determine better solutions.
One thing I’ve noticed is that we have, particularly at the beginning, been slow to take action, while most of the goals have not been met in the time promised. You can’t achieve success in a crisis when you don’t act swiftly and can’t meet the plan. One of the weaknesses that is apparent is the implementation of testing and tracing. Neither of them is being done sufficiently well, or at the scale needed. In fact, far from sufficiently. A large, major effort on these has been a principal reason for success in countries that have contained the virus.
But one of the good things that has happened is that the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Treasury have just released P22.9 billion to local government units to serve as emergency subsidy budget for people affected by the ECQ in the NCR Plus. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has been handling this well, releasing funds in a fiscally responsible manner. He is clearly right that we don’t know how long this plague will last. But, if reports are correct, the released funds aren’t getting to the intended recipients in an efficient, speedy manner.
What worries me is whether balanced decisions are being made. COVID-19 isn’t the only disease that kills. In 2019, the top five killers were ischemic heart diseases (97,475 deaths), cancer (68,657), cerebrovascular diseases (63,548), pneumonia (62,719), and diabetes (34,570). COVID-19 has killed 13,817 people, ranking outside the Top 10 causes of death if applied to the 2019 list. How many with those underlying illnesses died in 2020 because they couldn’t get treatment due to the disruption caused by COVID-19? What about the levels of poverty and death from malnutrition? Are there any numbers on that in 2020 brought about by the lack of income due to COVID-19 lockdowns?
I could go on with this, but you get the message. A comprehensive, well-detailed, balanced, knowledgeable, and speedy approach doesn’t seem to be happening.
More next week.
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