QUARANTINE DIARIES: Reading Public Policies and the Generic People’s Mind: What after May 15?

MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 29 April)  — I feel sad whenever I see people showing exuberant feelings when government has to take on a decision to lift community quarantines and lockdowns, all of them at the same time. Sad, because I sensed how most people seem so naïve at the severity of COVID-19 in terms of finding cure or vaccine that will effectively terminate the virus and how they equate government policies towards lifting such measures as simplification of the COVID’s transmission rate.

As it is, and has been, we are only seeing a W pattern of the virus’ daily transmission rate if plotted on a graph. From early April this year, I devised a crude mathematical formula to develop a pattern for purposes of projecting the numbers. The first planned target of the government was to lift, or at least relax, the existing control measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 by April 30. This was extended to May 15. Using my crude mathematical formula, I projected that the number of COVID-infected persons by April 30 will be somewhere between 8 and 9 thousand. I posted this on my FB wall, for the record. As of April 27 the number was 7,777. Could there be any significance of the number 7? I do not know.  RODRIGO has 7 letters and so does DUTERTE. “Less talk, more precaution,” says a bus sign near the driver’s seat.

The President already put forward a hefty reward for any Filipino who might discover the vaccine for the virus. Which is P10M, P15M, or could be P50M depending on how he feels about it. I have never underestimated the talent of the Filipino but I am pretty confident the vaccine shall not come from the Philippines. Inventions have always been the product of necessity. The countries racing to produce the vaccine are the ones most affected and with known historical capability to do so. It could be Germany or the US. Spain, Italy, and Russia were also among those severely affected but they have the least Nobel Prize awardees in the field of medicine.

Now, even assuming, for the sake of discussion, that a vaccine was indeed developed by the time the Wuhan virus has gone pandemic (as declared by the World Health Organization on the 11th of March), the experts say it would take 18 to 24 months for any vaccine to mature. The next challenge is testing it on humans and assessing its effectiveness.

The Ebola vaccine took five years after series of trials and development before it was declared by WHO as a mature vaccine. Assuming again that five years is the earliest we can have a mature vaccine for COVID-19, it would still be a long and (I hope not) disastrous wait. Why such a gloomy picture? Because in the Ebola days, we have never experienced such things as social distancing, enhanced community quarantine, and total lockdown which undeniably had dented world economies. These control measures were never seen in past pandemics. Cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox, and influenza were some of the most brutal killers in human history.

First identified in Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1976, HIV/AIDS has truly proven itself as a global pandemic, killing more than 36 million people since 1981. Currently there are between 31 and 35 million people living with HIV, the vast majority of those are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 5% of the population is infected, roughly 21 million people. As awareness has grown, new treatments have been developed that make HIV far more manageable, and many of those infected go on to lead productive lives. Between 2005 and 2012 the annual global deaths from HIV/AIDS dropped from 2.2 million to 1.6 million. (source: mphonline.org)

Nothing of this sort was experienced during the cholera, flu, polio, HIV/AIDS, and the latest strains of the corona viruses (SARS, MERS) in terms of control measures imposed upon society.

Now, given all of the above, what do we read in the government’s policies and responses?

Harry Roque, the Palace’s spokesperson hinted that a state of “general community quarantine” would become the “new normal” for the Philippines “for as long as there is no vaccine.” Right. But I have the apprehension it was more of a laid-back expression of hopelessness, or worst, lack of planning.

At best, the government should have detailed the mechanisms of a general community quarantine (GCQ), because for sure, this is, or should be, different from the ECQ and LOCKDOWN. The key in that GCQ would be FLEXIBILITY. This is what I would like to see especially in the face of a W pattern of the virus’ transmission rate.

Given the steadily increasing infections of the virus, our health care system can accommodate only so much. It, too, has its breaking point. Our government resources have their own breaking point. The state of economic balancing can only be stretched for a short period of time. In the face of a COVID cure coming in the long-term, a short-term strategy which could be restructured from time to time is a must. Whether we like it or not, we will come to a point where the next strategic question would be: “Which kills more people now? COVID or HUNGER?

For now, the best hope is isolation, still, to avoid being infected. This is the essence of social distancing, community quarantine, and lockdown. But isolation is simply not for everyone. I have seen on television a very old woman still pushing her cart hoping that someone on the street, if any, would still pick her goods for sale. Her story, certainly, is not the only one.

These are the social and economic breaking points which could be very difficult carry overs in five years!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Dr. Maugan P. Mosaid (FB account: Maxim Sense) is a freelance writer. He teaches statistics in the graduate school and is a planning consultant occasionally hired by some foreign development institutions. He is presently the Municipal Administrator of LGU Pikit, North Cotabato]

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