Leachon says PH 'missed opportunity' to curb COVID-19 spread in March

Former government coronavirus task force adviser Tony Leachon said the Philippines missed the opportunity to address the pandemic when Metro Manila and other parts of the country were placed on lockdown in mid-March.

"We missed the bus, we missed the opportunity during our first lockdown. During that time of the lockdown, we would have actually constructed these testing centers, contract tracing and isolation. But we were late," Leachon said in a mix of English and Filipino during Rappler's pre-SONA panel on Monday, July 27.

Leachon said other countries that experienced SARS and H1N1 had low coronavirus cases because they started with testing and contact tracing "without the benefit of the lockdown."

"Ang missed opportunity natin was actually when we declared that [on] March 15, dapat doon tayo nag-mabilis e. But we only appointed the czars…so we're doing this in the midst of crisis when it's almost 80,000. We should've done that way before, during the March imposition of the ECQ," Leachon added, referring to the enhanced community quarantine.

(Our missed opportunity was actually when we declared that (lockdown) on March 15, we should've been faster in curbing the spread of the virus.)

Last July 9, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque admitted that the Duterte administration could have been quicker in increasing its capacity to process COVID-19 test results in the early months of the crisis.

Roque regretted that the country had only one laboratory for coronavirus tests in the first two months of the pandemic. He said that he personally feels that the government should have begun aggressive efforts to add to its testing laboratories as early as the country's first imported case.

Another lockdown?

Leachon said that placing Metro Manila under ECQ or modified ECQ for two weeks would help the country strengthen its healthcare system.

"If we can do it for just two weeks, because you need a surgical knife here. Just two weeks, so you can stop and arrest the viral spread. But if they can't settle for an ECQ, if it will be against the proposal of the economic managers, I would settle ideally for an MECQ because I feel we're on the verge of a health collapse. All the hospitals are full, a lot of patients are calling, saying there are no more rooms," Leachon said in a mix of English and Filipino.

But can the economy afford another Metro Manila lockdown?

Economist JC Punongbayan said, "I think it’s safe to say to prioritize the health crisis before the economic crisis."

Punongbayan said the country’s output went down by 0.2% during the first quarter of 2020.

"Economists are thinking this might become worse in the 2nd quarter. Unemployment also reached a record high, hunger is also at its highest rate," Punongbayan said.

Despite being under general community quarantine, Metro Manila has reported 1,000-plus new cases in 11 of the last 12 days, or since July 16.

The rise in cases has strained hospitals in the capital region, where critical care capacity was at 74.9% – or in the "danger zone" – as of Friday, July 24.

As of Monday, the Philippines recorded 82,040 coronavirus cases, including 1,945 deaths and 26,446 recoveries.

The Philippines is nearing the 85,000 cases that University of the Philippines researchers earlier projected the country would reach by July 31. – Rappler.com

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.

image