The Philippine’s terrible start in COVID-19 Response

This is article was originally published with the title, “Why March 12 was a bit late” at Daily Guardian.

The first action that the government was able to do was to ban direct flights from Wuhan, Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China dubbed as the ground zero of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That was way back on January 22. It was further appealed to be intensified by several senators by putting an expanded temporary travel ban. Despite the need to do so to already prevent the entry of the virus to the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) and the Palace said that there is no urgency for the time being.

Eight days later, the Philippines got its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

It was already a wake-up call. From then on, travel bans began. January 31 saw the travel ban for Chinese nationals coming from Hubei province and other affected areas in China. More travel bans to several places went on right after. While there were more travel bans, more cases began to emerge and on March 7, the DOH raised Code Red Sub-Level 1 as the first localized transmission of the virus was confirmed. By this time, there were already six cases in Metro Manila.

Earlier quarantine

On the late evening of March 12, community quarantine was announced by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte for the entirety of Metro Manila. He finally decided to do so despite assuring the public that there is no need for a lockdown on March 9 or three days before his pronouncement. “Ayaw namin gamitin ‘yan pero kasi takot kayo sabihin “lockdown”. And a — but it’s a lockdown. There is no struggle of power here. Walang away dito, walang giyera. It’s just a matter of protecting and defending you from COVID-19,” the Chief Executive has spoken.

He then relayed that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease raising the code alert system to Code Red Sub-Level 2. It subjects Metro Manila to be under community quarantine. Among others, province-wide quarantine should be imposed on provinces with at least two positive COVID-19 cases.

Looking at the aforementioned statement and assuming Metro Manila is taken as one province, the community quarantine should have been imposed as early as February 2.

The numbers

Statistics are mere numbers but for the time being, it can either make or break our government’s decision of subjecting parts of the nation in community quarantine. As of March 16, 2020, the Philippines has 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19 spread across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao with 12 confirmed deaths.

The data implies an 8.571 percent death rate which is higher than the top five countries with the highest number of cases of COVID-19. China being the top grosser with 80,860 has a fatality rate of 3.974 percent. Meanwhile, Italy with the second-highest number of cases has a fatality rate of 7.306 percent. Iran being third has a fatality rate of 5.194 percent. Korea, despite having a high number of cases earning them the fourth top spot has a skinny fatality rate of 0.911 percent. Lastly, Spain with the fifth spot has a fatality rate of 3.681 percent.

In terms of recovery, we can barely boast of our healthcare system with a measly 3.57 percent recovery rate while those of China, Italy, Iran, Korea, and Spain are at 83.81, 9.44, 32.93, 13.81, and 6.47 percent, respectively.

With those statistics lies a simple question with a difficult answer: are we capable of handling this given that the community quarantine may have already been too late?

The challenge

In a 2018 report of the World Health Organization on the review of the Philippine health system, the country has a bed capacity of 101,688 based on 2016 DOH-released data. Of the many beds, 29 percent belongs to the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, 36 percent for the rest of Luzon, 20 percent in Mindanao, and 15 percent in the Visayas. There are 10 beds available, on average, for every 10,000 Filipinos.

With that in mind, how many of these beds would be able to accommodate COVID-19 patients? That is why it is essential to observe measures to avoid further spread. We simply lack the capacity to accommodate a big number of COVID-19 patients. As a simple rule of thumb, the quantity will hamper the quality of healthcare that will be provided. Doctors also get exhausted. Nurses and aides also get tired of being there beyond the call of their 8-hour shift. Some go the extra mile of doing a 36- or 48-hour straight shifts.

As cases rise each day and since we cannot cry over spilled milk had we only declared a quarantine much earlier, the government should put in mind that the current healthcare system needs support. Reports have already shown a decline in the supply of face masks in hospitals. Even deployed soldiers and policemen on checkpoints have minimal protection to ensure they remain healthy.

With community quarantines imposed in various places throughout the country, the government should now put their focus on the frontliners who will become the next probable statistic of COVID-19. The provision of personal protective equipment and other sanitation measures must be in order now. If there is one good step that the government can do, that is it.

While it is better late than never, just as how the quarantine is imposed. The government should now be steps ahead as more COVID-19 suspected persons come to the hospital for treatment. They should put the safety of their frontliners as their priority to hopefully flatten the trend of COVID-19 cases. We can only hope that things get better.

Published by Ilonggo Engineer

Ilonggo Engineer or Ray, is a civil engineer and a writer who strongly advocates for road safety, technology literacy, and social equity.

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