MANILA, Philippines — The latest looming lockdown in the National Capital Region (NCR) is believed to be the fourth in the capital, which accounts for more than half of the Philippine economy.
As more than 12 million residents wait for the latest round of restrictions that will begin on August 6 and end on August 20, they are told that limiting their movement is the price to pay to avoid a greater tragedy: coronavirus infections get out of hand.
The measures appear to tilt in favor of one aspect of the crisis – health – and neglect the other: the economy and livelihoods. Some experts say that protecting people from disease and the loss of their livelihood is not necessarily a choice proposition.
Disease experts have shown that keeping people separate is an effective way to slow down the transmission of the virus for one basic reason. Humans are the main carriers of the virus.
“The primary mode by which people become infected with SARS Cov2 is exposure to respiratory fluids carrying infectious viruses,” the United States Centers for Disease Control has said in its numerous COVID-19 advisories.
According to the CDC, people are mainly infected with:
- Inhalation of microscopic respiratory droplets and virus-carrying aerosol particles
- Getting the virus into the mouth, nose, or eyes from a splash or spray of virus-laden particles from an infected person
- Touching mucous membranes or contaminated surfaces
There are still inconclusive studies indicating that the virus is suspended in the air, which could be alarming, but it has not been shown to be certain.
Experts are sure of one thing, however. Close human contact increases the risk of infection, which would make containment an essential weapon in the fight against SARS Cov2.
During one of his briefings on the government’s response to COVID, President Rodrigo Duterte blurted out how difficult it would be to keep people at a safe distance in a place as populated as Metro Manila.
On this point, Duterte was right. Metro Manila is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. In Manila alone, there are at least 71,263 people per square kilometer, according to 2015 census data. In Mandaluyong city, the density is 41,580 people per square kilometer. In Pasay City, it’s 29,815 people per km².
Locking down these densely populated areas could mean keeping people locked in very tight spaces, which could defeat the goal of preventing transmission of the Delta variant.
Delta, who was previously known as Indian, was as contagious as chickenpox, according to the US CDC. To get an idea of how contagious Delta is, a person with chickenpox is 90% likely to pass the infection on to people close to them who are not immune, the CDC said.
Why resort to confinement in places where you cannot separate people like in congested poor urban communities? According to Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua in a statement last year, the lockdown or strengthened community quarantine would prevent 323,262 additional COVID cases, of which 9,698 are serious or critical.
But the blockages have taken place and will happen soon. They are now part of the package against COVID-19 around the world.
NCR lockdown episodes would show numbers that may or may not lead to a conclusion about the effectiveness of restriction of movement as a measure to slow the transmission of the virus.
When the first lockdown, or Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), was imposed from March 14 to April 30, 2020, according to the World Health Organization, there were 196 cases of COVID on the second day of the lockdown, March 16. On March 23, there were 768 cases. As of March 30, there were 2,019 cases. As of April 6, two days after the expiration of the ECQ period, there were 1,334 cases.
During the second lockdown, which moved to the modified ECQ (MECQ) from August 4 to 18, 2020, the WHO said there were 2,463 cases of COVID on August 10, six days after the start of the locking. On August 17 or a day before the MECQ expired, there were 29,305 cases.
A third cycle of ECQ was implemented from March 29 to April 4, 2021. On the day the ECQ went into effect, there were 71,606 cases of COVID, according to the WHO. As of April 5, the day after the ECQ expired, there were 69,164 cases.
It is not yet clear to what extent blockages in the NCR have been successful in achieving its primary goal of protecting people from infection. But it has come at a cost.
Unemployment in 2020 climbed to 17.7 percent, or 7.3 million people, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority’s April 2020 Labor Force Survey.
In the results of a survey carried out in November 2020, Social Weather Stations (SWS) said 48% of the Filipino population considered themselves to be poor. At least 12 million families have declared themselves poor, according to the SWS poll. The striking figure is that 2 million of these families are considered “newly poor”.
This next ECQ from August 6, millions of families are again facing an uncertain outcome. Duterte had asked the Ministry of Budget and Management to identify sources of funds for cash assistance after repeatedly saying in the past that the government lacked funds for this purpose.
The Department of Labor and Employment, quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, has forecast the loss of more than 167,000 jobs.
Senatorial Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and several other senators, call on the government to stop fundraising and simply turn to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-Elcac), which in 2021 alone gets more than 19 billion pesos in funding.
The task force had already released billions of pesos in villages, supposedly for development projects that would pit communities against communist rebels. An audit of the projects is requested although the Ministry of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which transferred the funds to the villages, has provided a list of project descriptions.
If funding was found, the government planned to distribute P 1,000 in cash per person and up to P 4,000 per family during the two-week ECQ August 6-20.
It was, according to Bayan chief Renato Reyes, misleading to give hope for help but not to be sure of the source of funding.
Meanwhile, people with cash have formed long lines at grocery stores and supermarkets to stock up on supplies. Shopping centers, with the exception of stores considered essential, have turned dark again, restaurant after restaurant closed on August 1.
Millions of people hope there will be light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel.
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