Coping with the pandemic

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 22,2020 - 07:00 AM


As Covid-19 sweeps through populations all over the world, international, business, and community leaders are put to the test. The lens in which they view the virus and its impacts naturally correspond to the manner by which they respond to the pandemic.  

Serious disease outbreaks according to the daily newsletter The New Scientist pose three threats.  

First is the direct impact in terms of illness and deaths. Second, there are people with other illnesses who will be disadvantaged because health services are overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases.  And third, there is the economic impact of travel bans and people not working under a lockdown arrangement.  

As a layman who continues to monitor the situation from my self imposed isolation, I proffer a fourth impact — the imminent collapse of public health system because of a variety of factors:  Lack of hospital spaces, beds, facilities, equipment. COVID-19 cases in the Philippines are still in the hundreds, but there appears to be a surge in patients showing symptoms of the disease.  

The situation has not only overwhelmed doctors, nurses and hospital staff that hospital directors last week asked Health Secretary Francisco Duque to centralize treatment of COVID-19 cases because they could no longer attend to other patients. Another underlying reason is the threat to the very lives of these medical workers because they are dealing with a highly infectious disease for which there is no cure at the moment.

I heard Secretary Duque react to this concerted call of hospital directors in Metro Manila, but his answer was neither here nor there.  I can only surmise he too is overwhelmed by the impact of the pandemic system that he took a pause from it all. He is currently in self isolation after learning that he had an interaction with a confirmed case in the course of several meetings and press conferences these past weeks.  

Lockdowns, social distancing

The imposition of lockdowns, social distancing measures, and voluntary business closures contribute what is called ‘flattening the curve’, or mitigating the spread of the virus so as not to overburden health care services at their peak.

People are asked to stay home and cancel public activities altogether in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. The goal is to basically to buy time for local governments to prepare medical facilities and manage scarce resources when infected cases soar up rapidly because the virus spreads easily and sustainably in the community.

Meanwhile, it is the fate of daily wage earners directly affected by the enhanced community quarantine that makes governance more difficult than anticipated by LGUs. They will be stretching limited funds for as long as they can, but we can’t expect them to be doling out food, masks and alcohol for the long haul.   

US not prepared, too

US President Donald Trump is trying to sound optimistic when he said this problem will disappear in August next year but global business and health sectors are saying people will have to cope with COVID-19 in the next 18 months.

Consider that the US with all its massive resources has shown it is not prepared to handle the outbreak (19,774 total COVID-19 cases, 274 deaths).

Still, the realization that beating the outbreak is a shared responsibility, retailers in the US have announced they will indefinitely shut their doors to prevent the spread of the virus. In most cases, employees are being compensated for lost shifts and other new protections are implemented for their workers.

Those subject to quarantines can avail of paid sick leave. Paid work from home mechanisms are in place to avoid public commute, thereby reducing possible risk exposure.

By compensating employees for lost shifts due to closures, staggered hours, sick leaves, and taking care of their sick families, employers in effect incentivized workers for helping flatten the curve.  

Under a quarantine arrangement how will daily wage earners and informal workers in our country survive?  Many will lose their jobs that bring food to the table, provide health care, jobs that send children to school. And the effects trickle down to street and market vendors who rely conversely on these workers.

Industrial zones’ closure

Meanwhile, as a result of the Luzon-wide community quarantine that immobilized millions of people, at least 3 industrial zones in Cavite shut down last week.

The closures were ordered through a memo issued by Charito Plaza, head of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, the regulatory body of industrial parks and economic zones. 

According to Cavite Governor Juanito Victor Remulla, the memo was silent on the loss of jobs by tens of thousands of workers, a huge problem that fell on the lap of the LGU.  

Strange that he still has not heard of a program by the Department of Labor and Employment in collaboration with PEZA and the Technical Education Skills and Development Authority (Tesda).  The core of the program is to direct workers to other jobs through the PEZA one-stop workers’ assistance center.

Some P12 billion in funds have been funneled to DOLE to meet this crisis head-on but the question is, what jobs await them when businesses have ground to a halt as a result of the outbreak? I just hope they will give displaced workers emergency funds to tide them over the next few months.

Corporate giants

Meanwhile, corporate giants have earmarked hundreds of millions of pesos to fight the outbreak. SM Group is allocating P100 million to support the needs of government hospitals.

For its part, Ayala Corporation distributed N95 masks to public hospitals. How would these corporate titans alleviate the plight of thousands of their employees will be worth watching.

Their toilers have brought them huge profits year after year and now is the time for these taipans to give back to their employees.  

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. And the extraordinary measures in the time of COVID-19 requires a higher level of morality and humanity that the world desperately needs.  They go beyond the outlines of social corporate responsibility handbooks — beyond charity contributions and outreach activities. /dbs

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TAGS: COVID-19, IMPACT, lockdowns, Luzon, pandemic, PEZA, plaza, social distancing
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