TURNING POINT: Communicating Lockdown

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 18 Mar) – In a lockdown or in any measure on account of a national crisis, the first order of the day is to communicate assurance.

The government should communicate to the affected people in unequivocal and coherent manner to persuade, and for them to understand the situation – the purpose, the sacrifices needed, and the benefits for one and all of the restrictions required by the circumstance. All plans attendant to the exigencies need to be comprehensive and clear, not to come to the public in trickle and piecemeal, to avoid varied interpretations, confusion and uncertainties. By all means, uncertainties should be eschewed because they scare and drive people to abnormal behaviors, like panic buying, hoarding, food riots and other destructive mob activities.

In a lockdown, since there would be work stoppage and income deprivation especially among daily wage earners, food rationing becomes a necessity. This should be incumbent in the lockdown plan to be communicated to the public to avert fear and insecurity.

But, in the pandemic crisis at hand, it is doubtful if there’s still any merit in continuing the Metro Manila lockdown or community quarantine, much more in enhancing it with stringent restrictions and expanded coverage to include the whole of Luzon. Certainly, the authorities are aware that there was a massive uncontrolled movement of people away from Metro Manila during the two-day grace period prior to the implementation of the lockdown. Hence, the virus has already spread far and wide before the lockdown hit the ground. The purpose of the lockdown which is primarily to contain the spread of the dreaded viral disease was already lost by said unchecked dispersal of people, thanks to the early announcement of the lockdown while the guidelines to implement it were still being forged.

Maybe, it is reasonable and expedient, after what happened, to just allow the virus to take its course and wait for its natural inactivity or death like the seasonal flu or colds.

The people, however, should continue to maintain healthy lifestyle and precautionary measures against viral infection. Meanwhile, while waiting for the run of nature, the government ought to augment stock inventories for more medicines to address flu and pneumonia, the diseases associated to coronavirus infection, to respond to the needs of victims.

With the lockdown, the people, instead of worrying with just one, are now being devoured by fear of two monsters: coronavirus and hunger. The hunger fear is scarier than the other because its adverse effects are immediate and can drive anyone to anger and madness.

Indeed, considering the restrictions that prohibit many to earn a living, it becomes imperative to go into food rationing. Maybe, it’s not yet late for planners to devise a comprehensive plan for rapid acquisition and continuous augmentation of inventories and storage of food supplies in strategic locations, and for a rational strategy on the allocation and peaceful distribution of food packages and disinfectants, especially in depressed areas at the duration of the lockdown.

Aside from locking down Luzon, the entire country is now placed in a State of Calamity. The exigencies require, more and more, that government authorities communicate what plans they have and forthcoming in manner that is coherent, unequivocal and easy to understand. Guidelines in implementing the lockdown and State of Calamity should be clear, consistent and are applicable to all areas covered by the declarations and should not be left to the interpretation of local executives or to those manning checkpoints and other fronts. Different interpretations and applications often lead to confusion, tension, ruckus, and chaos. Bellicose situations are things to avoid at this time when we need cooperation, understanding and unity in weathering away the crisis.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)