TURNING POINT: Lockdown: Where to?

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 14 March) —  A lockdown is not a lockdown but a lockdown.

The President was timid in calling the move to halt the spread of COVID-19 a lockdown (simply, a community quarantine), fearing, perhaps, that it would sow fear and panic; but along the way called it, after all, a lockdown. But it’s not war, there are no enemies, he assured the public. Yet, the camera ran through the array of uniformed men behind him in the entire length of the public announcement.

As of Friday night, 24 hours after the announcement, government planners had yet to come up with rules and guidelines on the lockdown. Without the rules and guidelines, the imagination of many runs wild. Confusion stokes further uncertainty in these uncertain times.

Of what good is the lockdown at the present level of the viral spread? Is the government ready for its likely consequences ?

As a containment policy, the lockdown should have been immediately executed upon its public announcement or, expediently, hours before the announcement, so as not to give anyone a chance to circumvent it. And it should have been more embracing if done prior the local transmission of the disease.

Because of the advance announcement, one would expect a phenomenal increase of travelers in airports, seaports and bus terminals in Metro Manila and nearby areas between the time of announcement to midnight of March 14,  all going to the provinces to escape from the metropolis before the lockdown would take effect.

By the way it looks, the lockdown which is intended to contain the dreaded disease hardly serves now the purpose. The two-day time lag before lockdown execution allows people with the means to scamper out of Metropolitan Manila. This enables the unknowing carriers of the disease amongst them to escape the lockdown and even infect those around them in the escape routes. For this, the advance announcement of the lockdown might have already spread the disease faster than, probably,  without a lockdown.

There was apparently some information leak, as legal adviser and spokesperson Salvador Panelo suggested, such that some people already knew of the lockdown before the beleaguered President had announced it. That is why, hours before, NAIA was suddenly filled to the rafters with passengers flying out of the metropolis. It was a glorious payday to the cash-starved airlines, which raised plane fare, naturally, to sky high.

Actually, the lockdown, for all its worth, came rather a little late. The reported COVID 19-infected patient from Marawi, now confined at a government hospital in Cagayan de Oro originated from Metro Manila about two weeks ago, or around that time that the local transmission of the disease was noted in San Juan and Pasig area. He could have been in COVID 19-infected Greenhills mall plying his trade. He has moved in three cities in Mindanao since then, and  admitted in two hospitals. You could just imagine the number of people that was exposed to him, not to mention his co-passengers and the crew of the plane that ferried him from Manila. The virus could be all over Mindanao by this time. (Editor’s note: the patient died Friday night)

Meanwhile, as in many attempts to escape impending calamities, the poor could  do not much but wait for what may come. Without access to sufficient clean water, proper nutrition and sanitation, the poor is most vulnerable to viral infection and during lockdown, to hunger and starvation.

Consider this: The suspension of classes and some works in government establishments and the work-at-home measure for public and private firms attendant to the lockdown may compromise the lives of daily income earners, such as jeepney, tricyle and pedicab drivers, market and sidewalk food vendors, ambulant peddlers, and contractual daily no-work–no-pay workers in many support services.  A lost income for the day means a lost food on the table the next day for their families. That spells hunger and anger for 30 days to this vulnerable populace which counts millions in Metro Manila alone.

Despite assurances that deliveries of food products from the countryside would not be curtailed, the flow of food supplies may, nonetheless, be constricted and consequently reduced in volumes by various traffic chokepoints.  Moreover, as always, uncertain times impel hoarding, black market trading and profiteering. As food becomes truly or artificially scarce, criminality would spike, tension would rise and anarchic violence could erupt any  time.

Does the government have the necessary store of food supplies to distribute or ration especially to the poor and to everybody affected by the lockdown?

Is the government ready for such eventualities?

Is Martial Law in the offing?  (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)