As per the Department of Health’s (DOH) COVID-19 case tracker, there are already 2,633 confirmed cases in the country with 816 pending test results as of Apr. 2. We’ve seen 107 deaths from the aforementioned confirmed cases, with 1,154 PUIs and 6,321 PUMs. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) data has accounted for 823,626 confirmed cases (72,736 new cases) with 40,598 deaths. With these situation reports, is a gradual lifting of the Luzon lockdown advisable?

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said that he would endorse the idea of a phased lifting to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which recently held an online conference with business leaders discussing preventive measures on economic collapse amid the pandemic. Aside from the gradual lifting, resumption of manufacturing and removal of checkpoints were also debated upon. 

In this proposition, the more necessary businesses, including the agriculture sector, will be the first ones to return to operation and will then be gradually followed by other enterprises

“[It would be] focusing on the more essential, the more basic businesses and their supply chains. This means even those that manufacture inputs for, let’s say food, essential products, hygienic products, medical products,” says Lopez.

However, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles agrees with WHO when it said that the threat is “far from over,” especially since a vaccine has yet to be developed and that a gradual lifting doesn’t equate to the elimination of the virus. He also dismissed news about a 60-day extension of the lockdown, saying that these were fake. But, the possibility of an extension is currently being weighed by a technical working group.

The gradual lifting is something the Philippines isn’t ready for simply because the importance of mass testing has been neglected, according to health advocate Minguita Padilla. “We need to do mass antibody testing before we can even start to gradually lift the quarantine. Germany and the [United States] have already recognized the value of this antibody testing, especially in gradually lifting the quarantine,” she adds.

For health reform advocate and former Philippine College of Physicians president Anthony Leachon, until we reach “no new cases and zero deaths,” the lockdown stays. The Philippine Nurses United said that the DOH’s current number of confirmed cases isn’t “reflective of the true picture” because this only accounts the people who sought treatment in hospital, not including the PUIs, PUMs and health workers. Bayan Muna urges the government to disclose the real status of the pandemic, saying that we shouldn’t be “shooting in the dark.” Hence, once again, the critical role of mass testing in fighting the pandemic.

As the country remains devoid of the actual figures, labor group Sentro and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) worry that the lockdown will be lifted not on the basis of medicine but on the recommendation of businessmen. Sentro secretary general Josua Mata says that two weeks’ worth of suffering will be put in vain once the lockdown is lifted and we’re faced with the resurgence of the virus. 

“The DOH should [put] its foot down because we are dealing with an invisible enemy that is not comprehended by our business people. Business interest should be the least of our concern,” says TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay.

In a do-nothing model, meaning in a scenario where there are no lockdowns implemented, by California-based Filipino scientist Dr. Darwin Bandoy, the peak number of cases can reach an estimate of 250,000. Bandoy said that if all operations resume on Apr. 14, the epidemic curve will rise again. To prevent the current trajectory, Bandoy recommends that the government implement physical distancing procedures, disinfections, mass testing and an increase in the number of ventilators. According to him, we only have around 1,500 ventilators in the country, which means our healthcare facilities can only accommodate that much severe cases. If we go beyond that, we’d end up like Italy—choosing who dies or not.

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