QUARANTINE DIARIES: Balancing Community Quarantine and the Socio-Economic Requirement of the Society: A Proposal

MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 03 May) — In my previous article, “Reading Public Policies and the Generic People’s Mind: What After May 15?” (published by Mindanews on April 29), I hazily proposed a flexible way of dealing with COVID 19. Because of that I feel obliged to expound how that works. But before anything else, let us consider these facts:

Fact No. 1: Community quarantine is necessary to slow down the spread of the virus.

Fact No. 2: People will assert for their socio-economic needs under any circumstances.

Fact No. 3: There is no COVID 19 vaccine in sight.

Fact No. 4: Different places have varying levels of infection.

Fact No. 5: The government’s social amelioration program may be good for three to four months only.

Given the above realities, government and its people have no choice but to come to a compromised solution, however palliative that may seem. Bottomline, both people and government shall have to find a way to survive this pandemic on the long-term, given fact no. 3. Certainly, we cannot feed people up to a point that government coffers bleed.

Now, let’s talk about Fact no. 1. The ECQ and GCQ are given. I would like to add two more: MCQ and ACQ. So, we now have: ECQ – Enhanced Community Quarantine, GCQ – General Community Quarantine, MCQ – Modified Community Quarantine, and ACQ – Adjusted Community Quarantine.

These four kinds of community quarantines shall be matched with the four types of Local Government Units classified by level of infections: high risk, moderate risk, low risk, and zero risk or COVID-free. As there is no scientific way of determining how many confirmed cases would be necessary to classify LGUs under each type, it would be more convenient to assign percentages to each one of them. Say, high risk LGUs are assigned 100% risk factor as benchmark, moderate risk would be assigned 20%, low risk would be 5% and below, and of course COVID free would be 0%.

But why this skewed percentage distribution? Because of the exponential behavior of the transmission curve as in for example: today there is one person infected with the virus, tomorrow there will be 5, the next day there will 15, then 30, 70, 120 and so on and so forth. If we are to plot this on a graph, the curve would look like the left side of Mt. Mayon in Albay.

So, for example, Davao City at 100 confirmed COVID cases will be assigned 100% as high risk area, Tagum City with more than 5 but not more than 20 COVID cases may fall under medium risk area, Digos City with less than 5 COVID cases may be considered low risk area, and Davao Occidental as COVID-free area. These are hypothetical or for demonstration purpose only. The figures in moderate risk and low risk areas may vary depending on the number of COVID cases in high risk areas assigned with 100% risk factor. If there is more than one LGU within a geographic unit, say Region, classified as high risk area, then the average of these areas shall be taken as benchmark figure for purposes of computing the 20% and 5% in moderate and low risk areas, respectively.

Now let’s define each kind of community quarantine according to their respective characteristics.

ECQ areas (100% risk factor): public transportation systems are suspended; only essential businesses and services are allowed to operate; subject to further evaluation before transitioning to GCQ; senior citizens and minors are strictly prohibited from going outside their homes; and there will be 24/7 curfew hours.

GCQ areas (20% risk factor): public transport systems are allowed but in reduced capacity; 50-100% reopening of select establishments subject to minimum health standards; may be relaxed further for normalization; healthy senior citizens are allowed to go outside their homes to access basic necessities; minors are still restricted; and curfew hour will be from 6pm to 5am.

MCQ areas (5% risk factor): public transport systems are allowed 100% but drivers and passengers should wear masks; all kinds of establishments are open but social distancing will still be observed in confined areas like malls, restaurants, hotels, banks and the like; healthy senior citizens are allowed to go outside their homes to access basic necessities; minors are still restricted; and curfew hour may be shortened by the concerned LGU.

ACQ areas (COVID-free, 0%): no restrictions except around boundaries, that is, if an entire town is placed under ACQ there will only be border checkpoints where quarantine and border passes will still be checked as requirements for entry. But within the confined area declared as ACQ or COVID-free, movement of people, goods and services shall be unrestricted. It goes the same way for an entire province, region or island which are COVID-free.

These are based on the basic minimum. Government planners/strategists may add more details depending on actual situations on the ground.

The idea here is to allow social and economic activities in ACQ areas (COVID-free) to go on its normal course, and therefore, there will be no more government assistance necessary in these areas. For MCQ areas (5% risk factor): only those directly and severely affected by the quarantine should qualify for government assistance. For GCQ areas (20% risk factor): government assistance will be for senior citizens with no permanent income, single parents with no permanent income, and daily wage earners who are still unable to return to work. And for ECQ areas (100% risk factor): government assistance will be for those eligible under the present criteria/scheme.

This scheme will save a lot of money for the government as assistance is now more focused based on the adjusted criteria. The present scheme targets 18M families out of 24M. This is 75% or three-fourths (¾) of the total number of families in the whole country, which means three out of four families may be eligible for government assistance. This adjusted scheme will only cover slightly more than one-fourth (¼) or 25% of the entire Filipino families considering the fact that out of the 1,488 towns and 146 cities in the country more than two-thirds (2/3) are still COVID-free.

Apart from Metro Manila, 9 other areas are still declared under ECQ by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) via Resolution No. 29 passed on Monday, April 27. These are: Central Luzon (except Aurora province), Calabarzon, Pangasinan, Benguet, Baguio City, Iloilo, Cebu, Cebu City, and Davao City.

Out of the PhP 200-B funds committed to the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), the Department of Budget and Management has already released some P2.8B to 45 out of 50 LGUs targeted for assistance, as of this writing. (dbm.gov.ph)

The money that will be spared from the SAP funds would rather be used to directly confront the pandemic virus in the form of giving more financial assistance to hospitals and other COVID referral facilities in the country, procurement of much needed testing kits to increase the daily batting average of the DOH in mass testing, procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs), procurement of more ventilators, and financial assistance to COVID-dedicated medical research centers like the UP National Institute for Health (UP-NIH), the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), and the others.

Emergency situation requires emergency response and strategies. Poor countries need to be a little more creative in surviving this pandemic. 

[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 a planning consultant occasionally hired by some foreign development institutions. He is presently the Municipal Administrator of LGU Pikit, North Cotabato]