[ANALYSIS] What to do after April 14, 2020
There is a debate going on within the business community, within the health community, and between business and health groups regarding what to do after the period of expanded community quarantine ends on April 14, 2020.
The Foundation For Economic Freedom, whose membership includes some of our more prominent economists, financial experts, and business people has called for the gradual easing of restrictions. They argue that the economy cannot sustain the lockdown, that people are suffering and increasingly hungry from the loss of livelihood. They argue that economic well-being is necessary to the health of people. A summary of their 18-point proposal can be found here.
On the other hand, health experts are not endorsing the easing of restrictions, with some arguing that we need more time. There is a need to assess our data as to whether the quarantine is achieving its purpose of reducing the number of infections, buying us time and “flattening the curve” so that we do not overwhelm our hospitals. An example of the concerns of our health experts can be found here.
Some experts have, in fact, come to the conclusion that we will need to extend the quarantine.
An equity approach
My own plea has been for the debate to take into consideration various perspectives.
This comes from an observation that there are not enough social scientists in the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and that, given the militarization of our civil bureaucracy which has happened under the Duterte administration, there is an overabundance of military science perspectives.
And this is where political leadership is crucial.
The decision is one between a rock and a hard place. And I hope it will be made by coming to a solomonic compromise that includes multidisciplinary perspectives and appreciates expert advice. It should also take into consideration our experience of almost a month.
At this point, I believe we should ease restrictions.
My reasons are guided by an equity framework which is the underpinning ethic of development work which is my area of expertise. Here are my reasons.
- There is anecdotal evidence coming from LGU officials that COVID-19 is hitting the well-to-do more than the poor. The initial evidence was indeed clear because those with higher incomes were the ones who had access to travel opportunities. This is of course to be validated once we have more tests available.
- While we are all locked down equally and all at are risk, the outcomes (equity) are not equal. The well-to-do are experiencing discomfort while the poor are experiencing hunger.
- Social unrest is possible. If this unrest is not met, violations of current quarantine protocols can happen in increasingly significant ways.
- While certain LGUs are doing well, it is clear that government is unable to provide the necessary safety nets, particularly food provision, for many.
- As the FEF position notes, the lack of guidelines and proper enforcement at checkpoints is threatening supply chains even for essential needs like food and drugs. Again, after one month of implementation, I see no capacity to get this in order.
- The current lockdown and social unrest has had government resorting to more disciplinary legal and police actions. This is diverting from possible actions that would strengthen the health system which remains our real weapon.
- Given number 6, a modified lockdown will force us to rely on people more than police action. This will compel us to begin something we should have done and can have done, massive public education. As a community organizer, I have a commitment to this, not because of ideological positioning, but because we have both theory and practice.
Decide now in order to properly prepare
I should add that this decision needs to be made now. In fact, it should have been done earlier. Government cannot be as unprepared for the change in policy as it was for when it imposed an expanded community quarantine.
Here are a few examples of preparations that should be done. A comprehensive plan and implementation guidelines that will lead to an all-government and all-society approach should be drawn up and will, of course, contain much more.
- Distribution of masks and orderly limited daily sales to the general public;
- The publication of a standard education and information manual for all LGUs and the massive recruitment of community educators. Such a manual will include procedural issues such as community level PPEs for educators and social distancing guidelines as educational activities are carried out;
- Meeting and getting the commitment of traditional media outlets for participating in the information drive;
- Negotiations with FB and Twitter Philippines as well as the major telecommunications companies for timely text blasts. This can include, information of what places to avoid;
- Public sanitation stations (essentially for proper hand-washing) at MRT and other transpo hubs;
- Clear guidelines that malls and restaurants stay closed;
- Immediate increase in senior citizen benefits because they will be asked to stay home even as the quarantine is restricted for others.
These are, of course, on top of ensuring that current efforts such as local person of interest isolation facilities, the massive importation of personal protective equipment for frontline hospital and community-based health workers, bail-out packages to small and medium industries, unemployment benefits, and other social safety nets come on line in the near future.
Each country must come to its unique solutions. I hope this thought piece adds to an evidence-based debate that is participated in by our citizenry. – Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in psychology. She is currently Dean of the UP College of Social Work and Community Development.