Nalzaro: Protecting our children’s health

Bobby Nalzaro
·4 min read

THIS issue might be water under the bridge as President Rodrigo Duterte has repudiated the decision of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) allowing children 10 years old and above in places under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), citing the new United Kingdom (UK) variant that infected some children in Bontoc, Mountain Province. But, still, I am writing this for the sake of academic discussion as this might be brought up again in the near future amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supposedly, effective this Feb. 1, persons aged 10 to 65 will be allowed to go out of their houses in areas under MGCQ. This, after the IATF approved the recommendation to relax the age-based restrictions for areas placed under MGCQ. The entire island of Cebu, including its independent and highly urbanized cities, is under MGCQ.

Currently, only those 15 to 65 years old are allowed to go out. All local government units (LGUs) are supposed to adopt the easing of age restrictions for areas under MGCQ. Individuals below 10 years old and over 65 are still to remain in their homes at all times.

Prior to the IATF decision, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez recommended to the IATF to allow 10-year-olds and above to leave their residences to help spur the economic activities in the country amid the pandemic. Lopez said 10-year-olds should be allowed to go to malls with their parents since they are also able to comply with the minimum health protocols.

The local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) headed by Councilor Joel Garganera with the approval of Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella was against the decision of the IATF, saying that under the IATF guidelines, LGUs are given the discretion and prerogative whether or not to implement policies as local officials know better the overall and real situation in their respective areas and that Covid-19 positive cases in the city has been increasing recently.

But wait a minute. While I am supporting the EOC decision not to allow children above 10 years old to go out, I am totally confused on the IATF and the LGUs’ decisions. Some LGUs are relying on the IATF’s final decision in policy implementation especially in holding big events. During the Christmas holidays, when the IATF decided to hold Misa the Gallo, the LGUs just complied. On the decision on whether to hold or not the annual celebration of Sinulog 2021, the LGU tossed the matter to the IATF. And when the IATF said no, the LGU complied. But now that the IATF allowed children 10 years old and above to go out, the Cebu LGU said no. Whose decision will prevail? Very confusing, right?

I am just consistent with my stand on protecting the lives and health of our children against Covid-19 as they are vulnerable to the disease because of their weak immune system. They are also considered super spreaders or carriers of the virus. In a comprehensive study published in The Harvard Gazette on Covid-19 pediatric patients to date, researchers provided critical data showing that children play a larger role in the community spread of the virus than previously thought. “Kids are not immune from the infection and their symptoms don’t correlate with exposure and infection,” says Alessio Fasano, director of the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center of the Harvard affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.

I was against the earlier decision of the Department of Education (DepEd) when it floated the idea sometime last August for the resumption of face-to-face classes. Good that DepEd finally decided to cancel their earlier plan and pursued the online-virtual, modular and blended teaching methods. Prior to the discovery of the new UK strain, Deped revived their recommendation to conduct face-to-face learning in some selected Covid-19 free areas and was supposed to commence this month. I was also against it as it would jeopardize the health of our children. Good that the President canceled the proposal in view of the new UK variant.

Why did we cancel face-to-face learning? Because we want to protect our children from being infected with the deadly virus. According to Unesco, most governments have temporarily closed educational institutions, leaving three quarters of the world’s school children out of school. Millions of children are faced with technological, economic and social barriers to education. In high-income countries, children switching to online learning still face many difficulties. In low and middle income countries, many education ministries broadcast teaching programs and modular learning.

We sacrifice our children’s education because of the pandemic. Now, our policy makers want to jeopardize their safety and health because they contribute to the country’s economy? Where’s the logic there? Children have no income. They mainly rely on their parents. Now, the government wants them to go out with their parents in malls so they can convince their parents to buy something for them like food and clothes.

I would prefer to see children bored inside our houses to seeing them lying in the hospital bed or inside a coffin. God forbid.