Going granular

Going granular

With new COVID cases over the weekend not going below 20,000 per day, the government appears to be moving inexorably toward a new approach in attempting to contain the pandemic: granular lockdowns.

Several local government units have in fact been implementing granular lockdowns for some time now in areas with infection clusters. Doing away with widespread lockdowns, however, will have to be carefully considered, especially when there is community transmission of a highly infectious variant in areas such as Metro Manila where many activities and public services such as mass transport are interlocked. Also, not all LGUs have the resources to support affected families during highly localized lockdowns.

Granular lockdowns work if they are accompanied by massive testing and aggressive contact tracing in the affected areas – two of the weakest links in the national pandemic response. These must be followed by efficient isolation even of the asymptomatic and their contacts.

Health officials and workers have pointed out that the recent two-week enhanced community quarantine followed by modified ECQ had limited success in COVID containment because the ECQ and MECQ are not the same as the original lockdowns imposed last year.

In the National Capital Region and neighboring provinces, economic considerations plus the progress of the vaccination drive made the government decide to allow greater mobility under ECQ, with more businesses open and mass transportation available instead of the hard lockdown under the original quarantine classification.

The highly contagious Delta COVID variant, however, is showing that a more relaxed ECQ isn’t working. One look at the crowding at a typical wet market even on a Sunday will show why new infections yesterday remained at a high 20,019. Many children have caught the virus, and there are increasing reports of breakthrough infections especially among those with high exposure to COVID cases.

If the government pushes through with a full shift to granular lockdowns, it must guard against abuses by enforcers. The government must also address the concerns of people who are not sick and who are fully vaccinated, and are likely to resent being included in a granular lockdown because of an infection cluster in neighboring households.

Health experts and data analysts are proposing a combination of widespread and granular lockdowns for now, as Delta continues to spread especially in the provinces. Another option is to conduct a pilot test first before making it a national policy. Doctors and nurses are warning that the healthcare system is about to collapse, and preventing this must be given priority.