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Inquirer calls out gaps in COVID response as cases reach 300K | CMFR

Inquirer calls out gaps in COVID response as cases reach 300K

Screengrab from Inquirer’s Pressreader account.

THE PHILIPPINES breached the 300,000 mark in confirmed COVID-19 cases on September 26, a most unwelcome development for a country that has imposed the longest lockdown in the world. The government’s heavily militarized quarantines have done little to stem transmission, as thousands of cases are still recorded daily. The fear of contamination thus remains high, and public reaction to the virus has in effect caused stagnation in most economic areas, hampered business activities, denied many their livelihoods, and limited education for many citizens.

Government has been sensitive to criticism of its obvious lapses and failure to act on time. Unfortunately, the media have been reluctant to raise these issues themselves, content to merely repeat government’s defensive statements and its claims of successes.

CMFR cheers the Philippine Daily Inquirer for the clear stand it has taken, presenting the facts and analyzing developments as the country continues to count cases in the thousands. While other reports merely noted the figure, the Inquirer connected the unabated rise of cases to the delay in strategic decisions, and the generally slow pace of implementation.

Jovic Yee’s “Longest lockdown, lost opportunities: PH COVID-19 cases go past 300,000” said the new record is a reminder that eight months since the first recorded infection, the government is still grappling with curbing the spread of the virus. He noted that in the 22-member Western Pacific region of the World Health Organization, only the Philippines reports cases in the thousands daily. Even as countries differ in resources, population and health systems, the report said comparisons will be raised when other countries prove more capable in their anti-COVID strategies.

Yee recalled the problematic response to the first reported cases in the country in January and February, which included the failure to implement immediate contact tracing and take advantage of the lockdown to actively map the spread of the disease and identify possible infections. He quoted the admission of DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire that early efforts were not enough, adding that it was only in August that active case finding was prioritized.

The report also referred to The Lancet Commission on COVID-19’s statement before the UN General Assembly which urged governments to “combat decisions based on rumormongering and misinformation,” and listen to the opinions of medical experts and scientists to effectively curb the contagion.

President Duterte exemplified the kind of leadership exhibiting “medical populism,” which simplifies the pandemic by resorting to easy solutions.

Yee noted that government only began to seek and follow the advice of scientific communities after the call for medical timeout in August from the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19.

While Yee listed other improvements such as the increase in testing laboratories and an apparent slowdown of new infections in September, he also cited the physicians’ warning against public complacency as risks of contracting the illness remain.

The Inquirer report provided the broad perspective with which to analyze the Philippines’ COVID-19 response.  It recalled fundamental gaps and the lack of immediate and timely solutions. Documenting the developments leading to the 300,000 mark in cases, the report makes it clear that the Duterte administration did not apply a health-based approach, lacking appreciation of the much-needed scientific guidance of the country’s public health experts. 

Observing the intolerance of the president and his officials of any criticism, most of the media in the country have not made this fact-based analysis prominently and consistently in news accounts that track government announcements and actions. Journalists have held back from calling out the delays and the flawed implementation of so many measures undertaken by the government.

This may be due to the failure of journalists and newsrooms to be sufficiently updated with the abundant literature and references on the disease and the successful measures undertaken to slow its spread. With a few exceptions, the media have been willing to repeat and legitimize the Palace’s claim that it has done all it can to protect its citizens against COVID-19.