The Philippines is still on lockdown, and every day brings in headline after headline of how the government is attempting to deal with COVID-19. The country was recently found to have one of the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia: there are currently 5,878 confirmed cases, 387 deceased, and 487 recoveries as of April 18. There are also 1,441 PUIs and 6,321 PUMs in the country. Updates on these numbers can be seen here.
It can get exhausting trying to sift through the words of the President in every single one of his late night press conferences for useful pieces of information, so here’s how things are going in the country so far. Live updates on the crisis can be seen here.
Lower government units deal with the extended lockdown
In a circular released by the DILG last March 21, LGUs were instructed to spearhead the prevention of the spread of the disease in their respective areas. Measures such as the issuance of one quarantine pass per household to limit the number of people going out to buy necessities were implemented. Mass public transportation such as tricyles, jeepneys, and buses were banned completely, after some LGUs used these to provide transport for essential workers and frontliners. Some mayors are being lauded for their effective containment of the virus through their sanitation and testing efforts, as well as how they distribute their funds to their constituents.
Food assistance is also being extended to affected communities in lockdown, with the DSWD coordinating with the LGUs to distribute food packs as well as cash aid. They currently have a response fund of P1.3 billion.
Groceries, pharmacies, and other establishments deemed essential were made to remain open during specific hours. Checkpoints were also set-up throughout the country, and police are tasked with ensuring that those in the vehicles are persons allowed outside their homes such as healthcare workers or those with barangay quarantine passes. Additionally, the wearing of masks was made mandatory for those under the ECQ.
Test kits being developed and mass testing across the nation
The enhanced community quarantine over Luzon, which was initially set to end on April 14, was extended until April 30. This move by the government was done so that more COVID-19 tests could be conducted across the country.
Although still awaiting DOH accreditation, Marikina City has been pushing for their own local testing center. In a similar move, Iloilo City has taken the initiative for mass testing, with test kits purchased using money from donations.
The low-cost GenAmplify™ testing kit developed through the combined efforts of scientists from the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, the Philippine Genome Center, and The Manila HealthTek Inc, has recently been approved for use by the FDA. These kits are now being used in laboratories. As of April 13, the FDA has approved a total of 33 test kits.
The government aims to conduct up to 8,000 tests per day, through enhancing and certifying more laboratories. These plans were laid out much after the calls from the public for mass testing and outcry over those in power getting VIP treatment were voiced out on social media. As of April 18, around 42,215 people have been tested.
The cost of COVID-19
The Bayanihan Heal as One Act, signed last March 25, allowed for President Duterte to reallocate the government budget from 2019 and 2020 towards efforts to combat COVID-19. This act granted the President emergency powers, which many have criticized as prone to abuse. On March 31, he stated that P200 billion was for aid for low-income households, but in the draft for the act it was originally proposed for P275 billion. For two months, poor families will receive up to P8,000 for each month. Those eligible for this aid will be verified only after they receive it, in order to speed up the distribution process. Frontliners will also be given higher hazard pay and extra compensation, replacing the initial P500 maximum daily allowance that drew outrage from the public.
Demands for a breakdown of the emergency funds were finally heard and released in a report by the government. Some notable allocations are the P195.485 billion for the budgetary support to government corporations and the P28.852 billion for the local government support fund. Offices such as the DSWD, the DOH, and the DOLE also broke down their reallocations for their COVID-19 response projects.
Starting April 15, PhilHealth begins to limit assistance for COVID-19 patients. Previously covering the full treatment costs, the state-insurer will now implement case rates. The rate packages are P43,997 for mild pneumonia; P143,267 for moderate pneumonia; P333,519 for severe pneumonia; and P786,384 for critical pneumonia. They clarified that impoverished patients may request for additional funding from PhilHealth or other assistance agencies.
Travel restrictions and bans
The country stopped issuing Philippine visas to foreigners around the world, except for those who are the spouses and children of citizens, and foreigners were banned from entering completely starting March 22. Foreigners already in the Philippines prior to and during the lockdown may fly out to go back to their home countries while Filipinos are not allowed to leave the country for non-essential purposes. Although OFWs may leave for abroad, the deployment of Filipino health workers to other countries was suspended by the POEA in a resolution signed last April 2. This was done in order to “support the national objective of controlling the spread of the virus through regulating the deployment of Filipino health workers through mission critical skills framework and to prioritize human resource allocation for the national healthcare system at the time of the national state of emergency.” After the public and many healthcare workers themselves criticized this move, stating that their deployments were set before the ECQ occurred and it could negatively impact their income, the restrictions were loosened on April 13. Those who have contracts in other countries are now allowed to fulfill their existing work commitments and leave the country.
It is possible to lower the curve, and other countries like Taiwan, Germany, and New Zealand have reaped good results by having effective wide-spread testing, initiating early steps in locking down travel, and taking the issue seriously from the very beginning.
The Philippine government has indeed been putting in the work, but a lot of the credit must go to those competent in the lower government units who manage their cities well, ordinary citizens who donate and hold drives for their fellow countrymen, and most especially the frontliners who risk their lives for the sake of others. More concrete plans and actions to combat this virus are currently being asked from the national government, while the President threatens Martial Law-like enforcement on Filipinos breaking quarantine protocols.
The calls for officials to be held accountable for their decisions and remedy their mistakes have already proven to be effective, which goes to show that public outcry is more than necessary and can yield the outcome we need.