Half-baked policy shift

Half-baked policy shift

Last Tuesday, news reports showed entrepreneurs and employees in the National Capital Region happily preparing for the next day’s shift to general community quarantine, as announced by Malacañang. Most were in the restaurant and personal grooming sectors, whose operations have been limited or suspended since the NCR was placed under enhanced community quarantine followed by modified ECQ.

Just moments after one such interview was aired in the early evening news, however, there was a news flash: the next day’s announced easing from MECQ to general community quarantine would be postponed for at least a week. Suspended with the GCQ was the shift in strategy from widespread to granular lockdowns, with a storm-type alert level system for determining which areas would be placed under localized hard lockdown.

One explanation given for the sudden change of mind of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases was that the implementing guidelines for the shift were not yet ready. An official said the IATF possibly also heeded concerns raised by health frontliners, who have lamented the decision to ease quarantine restrictions as COVID cases surge to record highs.

The surge has been attributed to the confirmed community transmission of the highly infectious Delta variant nationwide. The Alpha and Beta variants, which were responsible for last summer’s deadly COVID surge, are also still around.

Yesterday, there were social media posts and media interviews of people dismayed by the flip-flopping, which compounded the confusion over what granular lockdowns and the storm-type alert levels would entail exactly. One restaurant owner lamented that they had already bought meat and other perishables in bulk in anticipation of the next day’s reopening.

While people understand the difficulty of dealing with a deadly virus that keeps mutating, it must be possible to minimize the confusion and issue clear messages. A significant shift that affects business operations and could have a major impact on public healthcare needs full staff work, with potential problems addressed and different sectors consulted before being approved and announced to the public.

Edgardo Lacson, acting president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, summed up the sentiment of its members: “Authorities must be prudent in prematurely announcing half-studied policies or policy shifts as they have tremendous impact on business operations and people’s daily lives.” The half-baked policy shift also reinforces perceptions about the incoherence of the government’s pandemic response.