Explainer on Covid according to Gwen: Seven takeaways from Cebu guv on profiteering and why the cases are rising

·6 min read

THE Cebu Capitol approach to the current health crisis is being compared by some critics to the Roman deity Janus with its alternation of moods.

Last year, in the early weeks of the pandemic, Governor Gwen Garcia was the zealous enforcer of quarantine laws, tangling with violators in addresses or interviews live-streamed from Capitol. She stoutly defended her executive orders that aimed to curb actual and potential spreaders who criticized "draconian" measures.

Shift in focus

For the last few months though, as her world knowledge of the coronavirus grew and dread of Covid-19 waned, she has shifted her focus from sending the virus to its knees by lockdown to helping get the economy back on its feet and recover from the pandemic by loosening some restrictions. Her new mantra, "saving lives and saving livelihoods," must explain her assault on the obsession with numbers and, she says, the panic it causes, wiping out jobs and increasing widespread hunger.

Is that being Janus-faced? More of a revision of policy, prompted by what she has learned about Covid-19 and a changed appreciation of conditions on the ground.

Now the governor pushes for relaxing rules and revving up business and trade, without however, she would add, abandoning basic health protocols imposed by the national government.

Increase in infections

The governor's February 5 press-con at Capitol was in the face of the swell in confirmed new cases: In Cebu City, over 100 cases a day in four days from January 28 to 31. For entire Cebu, 395 cases on February 9 alone, raising the total number of active cases then to 4,182.

News about a variant of the coronavirus, which first broke out in the United Kingdom, and was feared to be in Cebu already, panicked some Cebuanos ("na-ratolratol"). sending the governor to her Sugbo News platform at Capitol.

Profiteering tops list

Here are seven key ideas from the governor, topped with her accusation of some people profiteering from methods in coping with the pandemic:

[1] "INCENTIVISING" the categorization of positive cases and care in isolation centers and hospitals. The governor alleges probable flaws in diagnostic testing of cases, such as including "weak positives" in the count without re-testing and setting inaccurate cycle threshold against the viral load, thus classifying more people as infected persons than there actually are.

The errors are benefiting isolation centers, Governor Garcia says, which get a specific amount, P2,499 per patient, from PhilHealth but devastates families of "infected" persons who only have daily earnings. The erratic classification also enriches hospitals that get fat fees from PhilHealth per Covid case. (The city's isolation center Noah disagreed. Its manager Joy Pesquera said PhilHealth approved only 300 of its claims while it served 2,000 patients.)

The governor stops short of explicitly accusing hospitals, doctors and isolation centers of corruption but she cites, aside from anecdotes of some persons she knows, the NBI's filing last Monday, February 8, of criminal charges of fraudulent claims against eight PhilHealth officials and three Chong Hua Hospital officers and employees. "Just a tip of the iceberg," she says.

The governor sees the high number of positive cases as "lucrative business." The hospitals and isolation centers, along with the funeral industry, probably think so too. Profiting in one's occupation or calling is not a crime. But profiteering by machination or fraud is.

[2] FEARING THE VIRUS AND MUTATIONS. In explaining that mutations of the virus are inevitable in their struggle to survive, Gwen Garcia says that since March last year, the virus must have been transforming already but "have we whined about variants since then"? Her theory is that the variant, like the original virus, is not as deadly as people fear. She cited the low mortality rate in the Philippines: "two percent."

What the Covid-19 in its early months must have informed Capitol policy: the more people knew about it, the less dreadful it became.

On the mutations, two persons with addresses in Talisay City and Liloan town were reported Friday, February 5, to have been infected with the variant, among a total of 25 in the country with B.1.1.7, the mutation of Sars-Cov-2. The variant is already billed in media reports as "highly infectious." Garcia apparently wants people to know more about the variant and maybe they'll be less scared of it.

[3] 'PHDs ON FACEBOOK.' The governor laments that news about the variant of the various has panicked some people who, she says, have no or little information about it. She suggests reading not from FB where opinion and information, she said, are mostly limited to the view or idea the people posting them advocate.

The governor deplores critics whom she calls "PHDs on Facebook" who wail over violations of physical distancing rule by others, thinking only of themselves in the comfort of their home, hardly of daily-wage earners who have to go out so they and their family can eat.

[4] COMPARING WITH TB, FLU. Governor Gwen sees incongruity in government practice that does not treat tuberculosis the way it treats Covid-19 -- or, closer to her point, does not treat the pandemic the way it treats TB. It has even stopped monitoring TB and the flu, she says.

There are more deaths from TB in the country -- 73 daily, she says -- yet there are no lockdowns over TB while quarantines and other restrictions have virtually shut down business, school, and social activities.

Her critics try to shoot down that argument, saying Covid is more contagious and more tenacious. The governor presents data and figures that it is not so. The paralyzing fear has made people hostages of Covid, she contends.

[5] RELAXING BORDER CONTROL. The incident with personnel from Cebu City's Emergency Operations Center -- in which the city's EOC set up a booth that screened incoming passengers, which required acceptance papers from the governor and the town or city in the province where they were bound for -- involved more than the alleged unauthorized use of Capitol's and Garcia's name.

It inconvenienced and discouraged returning or visiting natives of Cebu, many of whom could help rebuild the province economy. It contradicted a major thrust of Capitol in this stage of the pandemic as well as misrepresented her person and the provincial government.

Strict border control in the province, it appears, is a thing of the past, for now.

[6] CORE OF THE POLICY CHANGE must be her increasing belief that Covid-19 cannot be defeated totally but may be "managed," a disease that people can live with, like TB or the flu.

The lockdown may have saved lives but has decidedly hobbled the economy. There must be ways to "save lives" and "save livelihoods" as well.

[7] IT ALSO PROJECTS THE GOVERNOR AS DEFENDER OF THE POOR, protector of many people in the province who have to work every day to put food on their table. Could be part of the image the billing "Ang Probinsyana" promotes, helpful in seeking reelection or for a Senate bid.