Cebu Governor Gwen on Covid-19: Seven takeaways from her talks on current surge of infections. Case for saving lives and livelihoods.

Pachico A. Seares
·6 min read

OCTA ALARM BELL. The Octa Research report dated January 28, 2021 said:

(a) Covid-19 cases in Cebu province the past week rose by about 67 percent, averaging 147 new infections daily, compared to 11 cases per day the week before, which surpassed the nationwide rate of 0.96 in that period.

(b) Positivity or attack rate at 6 percent was “still below the high-risk cutoff,” yet it can strain or overwhelm the province health-care system.

(c) If unchecked, Covid-19 cases in the province could reach 400 daily infections in the next two weeks, the same figure when Cebu was under ECQ or enhanced community quarantine in July.

GOVERNOR’S RESPONSE. A cause of concern for the Octa researchers, “not a cause for concern for me,” was the prompt shot from the bow by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia in a press statement Friday, January 29. She amplified that in a press-con in Liloan town on the same day and another presser at Capitol and in a reply to SunStar Saturday, January 30.

‘YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE?’ SunStar asked the governor, “Has your policy on the health crisis come to leaning more on economic recovery than on saving lives? How about ‘your money AND your life’?” From her reply and earlier pronouncements in the last three days on the feared surge of Covid-19 cases in Cebu came to these key ideas of her – and the provincial government’s -- approach to the health crisis.

7 TAKEAWAYS ON GWEN POLICY. [1] MONEY AND LIFE: “Saving lives means saving livelihoods,” she says. To save lives. the government must save their livelihoods.

Saving people from hunger is also saving lives. To her, it is more urgent and pressing, as of now, than the pandemic. Poverty is bad enough. It has worsened with the plague. She says, “I have met and talked to the poor and hungry and they are desperate. As their leader, I must take their side.” More people are killed by hunger than by Covid, she says.

The government must do both. She does not expressly advocate sacrificing one for the other but she appears to lean towards tackling economic recovery more vigorously.

Her primary concern though must have been made clear by her oft-repeated priority: Cebu’s “devastated economy.”

[2] DANGER FROM COVID OVER-RATED. The governor doesn’t say that expressly but she asks, “Is Covid-19 really as deadly as the other diseases like tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes, among others?”

At the Liloan presser, she cited figures tending to show that infection and mortality rates of other diseases approximate the toll inflicted by ailments like tuberculosis, measles, diabetes, hypertension. Yet, we are not giving other killer diseases as much attention as we have been giving Covid.

The reason was partly due to lack of knowledge about the virus, its capacity to spread, how it can be stopped or controlled. Capacity for contagion has put the fear in people’s hearts. The governor thinks we know enough already about the disease, after more than a year of lockdown and other quarantine measures. With the data gathered, she says, “we should now be able to analyze, contextualize and decide accordingly.”

And Covid has high recovery rate and low mortality rate, she notes. “Not as deadly” as a number of other people promote, inciting people to panic and stay at home, neglecting livelihood and business.

[3] OBSESSION WITH COVID. Confusing other ailments with Covid (“muobo la’g gamay Covid dayon”) and the constant attention on the count or running total of Covid cases, which the governor says was not done on other ailments, may have caused the nation’s preoccupation with coronavirus infections. She suspects that giving incentives to hospitals for Covid cases and possible corruption may have prompted the alleged over-reporting of the disease.

The obsession with Covid has made policymakers overlook the more serious cause of concern: of more people dying from hunger, she says, than from Covid.

[4] ‘MOVE ON, LOOK FORWARD.’ Her policy is not to be continually hostaged by Covid-19 but to “move on, look forward” and take steps to “manage and control” the coronavirus and yet not be dragged down by it.

The solid, concrete step is reopening the economy, starting with home-grown industries and local tourism, waging the campaign actively with fund and program support.

[5] ‘CEBU CITY IS NOT CEBU PROVINCE.’ The figures that were made the basis of Octa Research’s expression of alarm could have included the numbers from Cebu City and the two other highly urbanized cities in Metro Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu.

The governor insists that Cebu province -- meaning without the three cities mentioned – has not produced the surge in the number of Cebu cases that caused Octa researchers’ concern.

From January 1 to January 28, she says, out of the 45,982 active cases, the province (sans the three cities) has 767, which is only 1.7 percent of its 3.2 million population (only 2.19 million as of the 2015 census).

Getting the figures right from the right LGUs, considered with the population, is crucial. “Get the proper scale and proportion,” she urges Octa. Consider the other cities such as Baguio and Davao, which have higher positivity rates against their respective population.

[6] TACKLING COVID. Even as Capitol pushes economic recovery, it has not abandoned health protocols and programs. “They are very much in place,” she says.

More than mask-and-fake-shield wearing and requiring room purifiers, Capitol advocates the boosting of individuals’ immune system, among others, distributing vitamins to emergency responders, seniors, traffic and police and firefighters. It is also ready to cooperate with the vaccination operations once the rollout from national government starts. Capitol however won’t buy additional vaccines until it gets the facts after the central government’s supply.

The governor guarantees that the mayors of 44 towns and six component cities are “ready” with their systems to cope with any further increase of infections, including enforcement of health regulations and isolation centers.

[7] CHOOSING LIVES, LIVELIHOOD OVER CONTROLLING COVID. It is her sworn duty to do so, the governor says. As “leader of the poor and hungry, the voiceless, the helpless, the silent majority,” she says more than once, “I must take their side.”

Angus Deaton, Princeton University professor who won the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics, says the route to growth lies through stopping deaths. “It is not a matter of ‘your money or your life,” but ‘your money and your life.’” There’s evidence in the data of any such trade-off, Deaton says.

To the national government and LGUs, it has to be both: money and life, that is, saving lives against both hunger and Covid. Neither saving the economy nor saving victims of the pandemic can be totally sacrificed for the other.