If there’s one thing that the onslaught of Coronavirus Disease has proven this year, it’s that the Philippines isn’t ready in handling a pandemic. This pandemic proved that Filipinos are more scared of the need to sustain themselves in the midst of a crisis whilst trying to protect themselves from the virus.
Unfortunately, our enemy spreads rapidly as it can’t be seen with the naked eye, and our government’s perfect plan to address this health crisis is trying to instigate the entire population with bullets and around the bush statements since the fight towards a COVID-19 free Philippines started. And thanks to it, a surge of COVID-19 cases just continues to amass positive numbers day by day as our healthcare system slowly becomes paralyzed.
The Philippines is so far from flattening the curve, in contrary to what our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia did when coronavirus cases were just emerging. Physical distancing, proper information dissemination, quick hospitalization of those infected, aggressive tracing, and quarantining of those in contact with infected people helped keep their numbers down. Atop of it, mass testing became their tool to flatten the curve – a measure in which our country could not implicate.
There are three main points as to why mass testing was delayed in the Philippines. Lagging behind its neighbors in Southeast Asia in terms of the number of COVID-19 tests conducted, data from the Department of Health’s COVID-19 trackers showed the Philippines has so far conducted 2,147 tests last March 26, two weeks after the enhanced community quarantine in the country started. The Department of Health (DOH) admitted at this time that this was due to the limited testing capacity of laboratories. Second, not only that laboratories were limited, but test results of Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) and Person Under Monitoring (PUMs) were delayed due to the domination of politicians, and persons of influence testing and re-testing their ubiquitous selves, whereas there are people needed it more. Lastly, there were limited test kits at the emergence of COVID-19 cases, but even if the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) were able to make cheaper COVID-19 test kits, the approval for its usage was also delayed by the DOH.
In April, the pandemic grew to 7,777 cases. Respective Local Government Units (LGUs) continue to ramp up measures to protect their people against the disease. Cases continue to rise in nearly a third or 32 percent of the country’s provinces. Nine hundred thirty-two people recovered while 511 lost their lives. In Bacolod City alone, 9 cases were recorded, and 5 in Negros Occidental, insinuating a local transmission.
With all these points put into perspective, netizens swarmed their sentiments to downplay those who underwent VIP testing and put resources to people who need it more. The cry for mass testing swept the internet with the hashtag #MassTestingNowPH becoming a trend. People constantly criticized the government for being too slow with testing. Afterwhich, mass testing started on April 14, due to an increase in test kits and laboratory capacity.
The Philippines has a total population of 109, 581, 078, with 12.8 million people in Metro Manila. DOH by far has conducted 72,794 individual tests, making it 0.5% of the population of Metro Manila after 42 days, still falling behind from other Southeast Asian countries. Data from Vietnam’s Ministry of Health dashboard on COVID-19 statistics showed it has so far conducted 30,548 tests. Singapore, meanwhile, has done 39,000 tests, translating to 6,800 tests per million, according to its Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. Malaysia has, likewise, done a total of 21,885 tests last March 25.
As we are nearing the end of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, President Rodrigo Duterte decided to extend the ECQ to high-risk areas and putting low-risk areas into General Community Quarantine. Data from the Department of Health show that 26 out of 81 provinces in the Philippines or have not had a single confirmed case of COVID-19 to date. But how can we reaffirm that these provinces really have not had a confirmed case when mass testing is not conducted and there are people who are asymptomatic? Moreover, some of these provinces do not have their own testing laboratories, and resources are not expanded to them which really puts them on a pedestal, waiting to crack at any moment.
Discipline, staying at home alone isn’t enough to flatten the curve. We keep on shifting the blame to people when the government has a bigger responsibility towards its people. Blame-shifting people in the midst of this pandemic who are trying all their best to survive doesn’t equate to a lessened number of cases. We need mass testing to know the exact number of people infected with COVID-19 and to strategize the resources of the government. If mass testing is implemented, contact tracing, and an efficient process of giving out of funds and goods, the Enhanced Community Quarantine will not be extended. Lives are at stake, people cower in fear of getting the virus. We can never expect to go back to our normal lives even if the Enhanced Community Quarantine will be lifted. If there is no mass testing, we will still continue the cycle of the reactive measure of extending the ECQ. Coronavirus will still continue to threaten us, and we are only one death’s door away, once we step our foot outside of our own homes towards our freedom/T.M.J. Dedoroy