Editorial: Resurrecting public health

·3 min read

DIFFERENCES in perspectives determine whether community quarantines are effective in the containment of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

On the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), President Rodrigo Duterte approved extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) of the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble, which will start on April 5 and end on April 11.

Covering the Greater Manila Area or Metro Manila, Laguna, Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal, the bubble was first placed under ECQ from March 29 to April 4. Instead of declining, new cases continued to surge in the bubble under the ECQ.

The Department of Health (DOH) and the Octa Research Group recommended extending the ECQ in NCR Plus for another week, which, says presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, will entail the intensification of the administration’s “Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat and Reintegrate (PDITR)” strategies.

Penetrating governmentspeak under the pandemic is not so much a challenge as growing inured to the jargon and missing the essential message.

Some citizens may find “NCR Plus” obscure and “PDITR” impenetrable, but “ECQ” has ceased to hold its import for the citizens that ironically need to understand and observe the protocols aimed at preventing the worsening of the surge.

In Cavite, X. and Y. live in the same house located in a gated community. Their household consists of four adults, aside from a toddler and an elderly person. Three of the adults work in offices. X., the father of the toddler, isolated himself from the rest of the household for a week when, before the ECQ was implemented on March 29, three of his asymptomatic colleagues tested positive for Covid-19.

Y. hires out his labor around the village. While hauling soil on April 2 with Z., a regular partner, Y. was spotted by a barangay team while removing his face mask after passing a checkpoint. When Y. was brought to the barangay hall, several officials who knew him let him go without reprimand or sanction.

The discrepancy between government pronouncements and grassroots priorities reveals the vulnerabilities of a community inured to community lockdowns. When before the stringent restrictions under the state of ECQ or GCQ disciplined citizens into staying home, limiting excursions to essential purposes, wearing PPE appropriately, and avoiding gatherings, apathy and fatalism dominate in the reactions of those who view Covid-19 as one of the risks encountered in the grind of daily survival.

As localized lockdowns push vulnerable persons affected by work shutdowns to take risks that expose them and others to Covid-19, the government must prioritize other PDITR strategies, such as mass testing, contract tracing, isolation, and treatment, and mass vaccination.

In Cebu, the ramping up of the vaccination of frontline health workers, followed by the elderly, persons with comorbidities, and the rest of the population following the DOH priority list is deemed urgent to prevent a surge of cases, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Bryan Lim.

As reported by Jerra Mae J. Librea of SunStar Cebu on March 30, a partnership has been inked between the government and the private sector to operationalize vaccination sites in Central Visayas.

Although the DOH 7 has pronounced that “very good case management” eliminates the possibility that Central Visayas will be placed under the ECQ status again, the roll-out of vaccination in the region should still be fast-tracked.

Local government units, particularly barangays, must take the lead in initiating measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission without necessitating community lockdowns. Getting people’s cooperation and participation in sustaining minimum prevention protocols entails improving barangay officials’ grasp of and participation in PDITR strategies.

Beyond decoding pandemic jargon is the need to resuscitate citizens’ belief in and safeguarding of public health.