Health experts have repeatedly pointed it out: we can keep imposing various degrees of quarantine restrictions in the areas now suffering from a surge in COVID cases. But without the corresponding increase in testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment, we could simply face a cycle of lockdowns, a period of easing, and then back to the crippling lockdowns.
Let’s start with the testing. With P2,000 for a saliva RT-PCR test the cheapest available, testing is out of the question for the poor. Not all local government units offer free RT-PCR testing. And for those who can afford it, the results can take a minimum of two days to come out, by which time a COVID-positive person could have infected many others.
Then there’s the contact tracing. Everyone is being compelled to use the StaySafe.PH app, but the secretary of the interior himself has described it as “a work in progress.” Has anyone who has ever used the QR code been contacted and informed by any commercial establishment that he might need to get tested because someone in the establishment is positive for COVID? As for manual tracers, the government is acutely understaffed.
There has been some progress in isolation facilities. Several universities have allowed the use of their premises for the isolation of mild and asymptomatic cases. Modular tents have been set up, and field hospitals built out of shipping containers are being set up. Whether they will have the necessary healthcare personnel remains to be seen.
As for treatment, images clearly show that many hospitals can no longer handle the overflow of COVID patients especially those needing critical care. There have been reports of people dying of complications from COVID while waiting for admission into hospitals. A step-down scheme, to move out patients on the way to recovery and make room for worse cases, is just starting to be implemented. This is complicated by the behavior of variant-driven COVID, which can jump from mild to severe sometimes literally overnight, leading to death.
These problems must be addressed as the modified enhanced community quarantine is extended for another two weeks in the National Capital Region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal, and until the end of May in several areas. The MECQ is further choking the economy and aggravating livelihood losses. The two-week period must not go to waste; there must be intensified effort to address the inefficiencies in the different aspects of pandemic response.