POSTSCRIPT / April 2, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We could have saved more COVID victims

THE HEALTH department tells us that of the 2,311 known cases of Philippine residents afflicted with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as of 4 p.m. yesterday, 96 (or 4 percent) have died and 50 (or 2.2 percent) have recovered.

Compare these local figures with the global data showing that of the 846,156 people infected worldwide, 41,494 (or 4.9 percent) died and 176,171 (or 20.8 percent) have survived.

The death/recovery rates of the top four countries are: United States, 2 percent/3.8 percent; Italy, 11.7%/14.8%; Spain, 8.8%/20%; and China, 4%/93%. (Many Filipinos are also interested in Singapore, whose death/recovery rates are .3 percent and 26 percent.)

It appears that while the Philippines has almost the same death rate as the global community’s 4.9 percent, its patients’ recovery record of 2.2 percent is way below the world’s 20.8 percent.

Disregarding reporting inaccuracies attributable to human and other monitoring errors, we conclude that the Philippines could have saved 480 of its 2,311 patients had its public health system been as efficient and technically on a par with average countries.

As a bicameral oversight congressional body examines the weekly performance report of President Duterte based on the new law giving him special powers to address the COVID-19 pandemic, some issues are brought to the fore:

How fast can the public-private collaboration improve its management of the COVID-19 situation and the entire health system that the ongoing crisis is putting to a severe test?

Will the P200 billion that the President has been allowed to realign from unused budget items be enough to fill the gaps in the system? How much of the amount will be eaten up by corruption and administrative costs instead of going to the intended beneficiaries?

Under that special law, poor families on the social welfare department’s list should have received by now their P5,000-P8,000 cash subsidy. That is aside from the amounts due them under the existing unconditional cash transfer program. Have they received the money?

As for COVID-19 testing and treatment, how fast can the government procure more test kits, hire more medical and health front liners and provide them with personal protection equipment, masks, transportation, etc.? How many additional facilities will be opened and equipped?

Will there be enough money, as promised by the President, to feed and house for at least three months an estimated 35 million who are losing their source of income (if they had any to begin with) as a result of the restrictive lockdown?

When lack of food among the jobless millions begins to affect the public temper and the peace and order situation, will the military-police forces be able to hold the line?

Yesterday noon, residents of sitio San Roque, barangay Bagong Pag-asa, in Quezon City, broke the lockdown as they complained of hunger and spilled on EDSA to beg. Some of them were arrested by the police in the ensuing melee.

Is the isolated incident a hint of creeping unrest, a preview of ugly things to come?

 Between dying of hunger and disease

IS LOCKING down populated areas — on the belief that the coronavirus spreads mainly through human contact and dies if it fails to latch on to a new host within 14 days — the only way to stem the spread of the disease?

How do we restart a faltering economy and offset the negative socio-economic impact of prolonged lockdowns?

Is there need for rebalancing time and resources to give food production and supply the attention they deserve? As we have noted before in this space, we seem to be running a survival race to escape dying of either starvation or of the coronavirus.

But the President’s spokesman said nobody dies of starvation in one month, the period originally mentioned as the duration of a Metro Manila lockdown, euphemistically referred to as a “community quarantine,” which was later “enhanced” to cover all of Luzon.

Even the one-month lockdown appears headed for an extension as the government faces the problem of controlling an idled population getting restless with its food supply dwindling and a killer virus from China hounding it.

On March 12, after an inter-agency meeting on the pandemic, the President told the people on TV: “Do not panic. Huwag kayong masyadong ma-stress na parang hindi mo na magawa ang gusto mo. Puede pa rin, pero may restrictions tayo, may mga kondisyon dahil nga sa crisis.”

Announcing the “social distancing” (crowd control) that came with the “community quarantine” (lockdown), Duterte said: “Huwag ninyong maliitin. But do not kill yourself with worry because government is doing everything possible to make it at least controllable… Try to obey what government is suggesting or ordering you to do.”

Data from a study by Finder Philippines show, meanwhile, that an estimated 39.8 million Filipino adults have been unable to buy essential items in the last month. The finance service website reported this after its survey of 2,021 Filipino adults March 16-18.

The survey said 27 percent of the respondents had the most difficulty buying fresh food, and 22 percent were unable to buy medicine in the past month. Among five countries surveyed, the Philippines recorded the biggest number of people (58 percent) unable to buy essential goods.

Older Filipinos, particularly those aged 45-54, were reported having the hardest time buying necessities. An estimated three out of every five Filipinos (61 percent) in this bracket said they could not buy at least one of the items listed in the survey.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 2, 2020)

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