"What about ordinary people?"
I hate having to ask some questions at a time when we probably should not “be crying over spilled milk” as the trite saying goes. In earlier column articles, I have stated that we should all just cooperate and follow what our government tells us to do in these difficult times.
I have absolutely no doubt about the sincerity of the President, and fully support his pained appeals to the public to sacrifice. But appointed government officials who are primarily in charge of the state of public health should have made, and should be making decisions based on the need to address a crisis of “pandemic” proportions.
Yet often, the logic of decisions and indecisions coming from our Department of Health baffles. And they continue to baffle.
First off, when China declared the existence of the coronavirus epidemic which had thousands in Wuhan infected at an alarmingly quick rate, our DOH secretary failed to advise the President or the agencies in charge, such as the Bureau of immigration, to meanwhile ban travelers from the country. And the reasons he gave were “political and diplomatic” complications, neither of which were in his charge to divine. The inaction defied logic.
For months on end, DOH failed to test as many possibly infected persons, even those who were most vulnerable, such as senior citizens with symptoms. Meanwhile, they were testing asymptomatic persons of privilege who just wanted themselves and their families tested, invoking political rank. Again, the reason must have been obviously “political.” But was it logical, let alone morally correct?
And, pray tell, why did we get stuck for two months with just 2,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits? Why did they confine test evaluation to a single laboratory under the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine here in Metro Manila, when they should have known that between the period of Wuhan discovery and their travel ban (February 6), thousands of Chinese visitors had already been in the country, in Cebu, Boracay and elsewhere, as this was the peak of Asian travel with the Lunar New Year long holidays?
Why did the DOH not order more PCR test kits and more protective equipment in preparation for the “invasion” of a virus that was already devastating by leaps and bounds across the length and breadth of neighboring China? Lack of budget?
That would be lame reason, because a health emergency provides reason to cut bureaucratic corners, and in any which case, an appeal to a quick-deciding President would have remedied the situation.
Now that we have breached the thousand-victim mark, with cases piling up because “we now have more test kits” as the DOH spokesperson (an excellent, cool-headed communicator) admits, are we also admitting that all the time we were proudly announcing we only had three coronavirus cases, it was because we were doing no tests? The logic ties up.
And then again there is the question of contact tracing or tracking possibly infected persons. Were the DOH people doing the tracing themselves? Would not plain and simple logic have indicated that contact tracking is best done through the Philippine National Police, aided by the local government units?
There were identified victims after we admitted that three became five, and thereafter. Was appropriate tracking done thereafter? I cite this matter because when a Taiwanese tourist returning to Taipei from the Philippines was discovered to have had the virus, he was immediately isolated and the health officials here asked him where he had been when he was in the Philippines. The Taiwanese government immediately supplied the information to our government. The potential number of contacts should have been in the hundreds. Were they tracked and tested at all? I wonder.
On March 14, another Taiwanese returned from the Philippines, and because symptoms were detected at the airport, he was brought to the hospital, where information was given as to where he stayed while in our country. When we learned about the case, my MECO administrative director immediately called his contacts in the Philippine National Police. Overnight, the Bulacan police authorities were able to trace the family, and a senior citizen-relative of the Taiwanese was immediately brought to the hospital for isolation and treatment.
Nowadays we learn only of prominent persons, like the movie actor Christopher de Leon voluntarily asking those who may have been in contact with him to have themselves tested. Or isolate themselves. Or high officials like the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. But what about ordinary people?
Thus, the appeal of Sen. Ping Lacson which I read in yesterday’s papers, asking COVID-19 victims to voluntarily shed off their right to privacy, so that persons who they had been in contact with could come out and be tested, is but proper and sensible.
Being infected with COVID-19 is not like having HIV an infection, which privacy laws protect identification thereof, because of the social stigma yet attached to it—unfairly, I must say. Come out and contribute to proper contact tracing. The life you save may be kin or friend.
Finally, the matter of accrediting test kits. There is ongoing debate among physicians and the DOH regarding the slow-result PCR method and the point-of-care testing of antibodies taken from blood samples. The latter has been widely utilized in South Korea and China, and now in Europe. The test kits are not mutually exclusive; they can both be strategically used to determine the positive cases.
For instance, mass testing on the barangay level could be done by health workers because results would show after 15 minutes from the time the blood sample taken from the finger is tested with a reagent. If positive, the person even if asymptomatic could be immediately brought to a hospital for further testing through the DOH-approved PCR method which involves throat or nasal swabs, and forwarded to laboratories that would need days to validate.
Again, the DOH is intransigent. Meanwhile, many have died, of “pneumonia” or “heart attack” or whatever else, while the test results come days after they have died. The cri de coeur of the next of kin of such victims who died without knowing test results, if any, fill the pages of social media. And the dead are cremated instantly to prevent possible infection of the living, absent wakes, mourning of the bereaved turning into anger against government.
Which now makes me quote a paragraph from an article now viral in social media, attributed to former Antipolo City congressman and respected PNP general, Romeo Acop, whose wife and four children are all medical professionals likely among the frontliners in the battle to save as many of our people from the scourge:
“To those of you who are physically, intellectually, and morally weak, and incapable of giving your best self, we hope you find the courage and patriotism to step aside and let others more capable to do the job.”