Time to adjust tactics, with the virus now in our midst

As bad news travels fast on social media, the Provincial COVID-19 Task Force surely hopes that the reality of the coronavirus in our midst would make Catandunganons think twice about going out and mixing with other members of the public.

The tired and harassed member-agencies of the task force have been finding it difficult to convince some hard-headed citizens to obey its admonition to stay at home, wear a mask whenever they are out and to take every precaution lest they get infected by the virus.

For more than a month now, Catandunganons have been content with their belief, a false one as it turns out, that maintaining strict protocols against unauthorized travel to the island would be enough to keep the scourge at bay.

It appears the task force and the nearly 300,000 residents it seeks to protect had been harboring a false hope.

Far from the common expectation that the province’s geographical isolation would keep it virus-free, it now turns out that the highly infectious disease has been with us even before the Enhanced Community Quarantine shut down all means of travel with the mainland.

The coronavirus appears to have been brought in from Japan on March 7, more than a week before President Rodrigo Duterte finally came to terms with the humbling fact that Chinese tourists spread the virus in the country.

Catanduanes’ COVID-19 index patient cannot be blamed for being allowed to travel here, as the national government did not deem it vital to have all arriving international passengers tested for the virus. Hell, it did not even procure enough testing kits, much less establish COVID-19 testing centers in key regions of the country.

Of course, all of these missed chances to stop the virus have long gone. All the local authorities have to do now is consider the new normal and accordingly adjust quarantine guidelines, in compliance with the changing national policies.

Fear, like coronavirus, is highly contagious. But the fear of getting infected should not impel everyone, particularly those implementing the quarantine protocols, from treating as pariahs or lepers those with the disease, people they had been in contact with, and their unfortunate neighbors who only happened to live in the same locked-down block.

What the authorities should do now, as the Virac municipal government and the San Isidro Village barangay council have done, is to convince the public not to panic. A message for residents to keep themselves healthy and to take appropriate precautions whenever they are outside will suffice.

Now that the coronavirus is here on the island, the task force and the local government units should take a second look at their strategies and re-calibrate their response.

For example, it should consider removing the barricades placed by barangays on most of their streets. Coronavirus does not respect fences and borders; it will invade the villages willingly on their careless hosts, residents who defy the quarantine guidelines.

The limited issuance of quarantine passes will have to go, as the Liga ng mga Barangay’s scheme is in direct violation of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) guideline providing for one pass for every household.

Even the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has stepped in following weeks of long lines outside markets and drug stores.

Last Saturday, April 18, 2020, it issued a memorandum directing LGUs to “discontinue the imposition of ‘narrow or limited window period’ on the access to and operations of public and private establishments such as wet markets, supermarkets, grocery stores, and pharmacies.”

Setting window hours “further creates congestion of people who flock to these areas at the same time” and prevents the proper implementation of physical distancing, Sec. Eduardo Año stressed.

Instead, the DILGA chief stated, the scheduling and clustering of barangays or communities who may be allowed to go out should be considered.

Last Monday, an executive order spelling out guidelines for the management and disposition of dead COVID-19 and suspect cases was supposed to be issued.

It is hoped that in crafting the policy to be followed by funeral parlors and LGUs, the planners had considered the plight of grieving families who lose a loved one not to the coronavirus but to ordinary diseases that usually befall anyone even in the best of health.

It is not too late to stop the virus from China but the authorities should temper their instinct to use a cannon to kill a mosquito.

Fear, indeed, makes it easier for the public to obey, but making them realize that they need to do so out of love not only for themselves but also for their families will be much more effective.

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