The initial measures approved by President Rodrigo Duterte to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the country will surely be sliced and diced by Filipinos for days to come.
They have the potential to either polarize or unify as the Philippines, along with other countries in a world turned upside-down, faces a game-changing pandemic that has the potential to kill scores of people.
Just months since its outbreak in Wuhan, China, the virus has already claimed 4,925 lives, with 131,500 confirmed cases of infection across 116 countries.
With the virus’ relatively fast rate of transmission in a world interconnected by air and sea travel, governments around the world are hitting panic buttons and justifiably so.
Italy’s experience, leading to a veritable lockdown of the entire country, is most frightening. Nearly 200 deaths in just 24 hours or an increase of 23 percent to 1,016 deaths in just a few weeks.
At the epicenter of the virus outbreak in Europe, Italy has seen a big increase of 21.7 percent in the rate of infection within its borders from 12,462 to 15,113, within the same time frame.
The United States, with its first-class health care system that is the envy of other nations, is itself reeling with 1,300 cases and nearly 40 deaths, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
Initially belittling the COVID-19 threat, US President Donald Trump suddenly closed America to travelers from Europe in what betrayed the creeping dread that has led to plunging stock markets and widespread panic-buying.
It is against this backdrop that many worried Filipinos awaited President Duterte’s pronouncements Thursday evening after he emerged from a three-hour meeting with his Cabinet and the task force on emerging infectious diseases.
Duterte’s measures to run for 30 days, from 15 March to 14 April, include travel restrictions to and from Metro Manila, the extension of class suspensions to 12 April and quarantine procedures from barangay to city levels.
While the course of action itself, in its entirety or in its specific parts, may not sit well with some Filipinos, the resolve by which the President presented them should leave no doubt he is in charge.
Without sugar-coating the fact that COVID-19 is not going away until such time a vaccine is produced, the President’s message is simple: Let’s not kill ourselves worrying, but let’s not be complacent at the same time.
He stressed that while martial law will not be declared, the people will have to follow the measures laid down by the government or its agents — soldiers and policemen being “protectors of the people” — will be there to enforce them for the “common good.”
Reading between the lines, President Duterte made it very clear that anarchy will not be allowed to rear its ugly head and that shenanigans like hoarding will be dealt with accordingly.
Wars and plagues demand decisive and bold leaders who have the prerequisite bullheadedness to carry the day. Dealing with COVID-19 demands the same if we are to avert a repeat episode of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus pandemic which killed an estimated 150,000 to 575,000 people worldwide.
Duterte’s measures, in effect for 30 days, would just be preliminary to isolate and treat those infected and to check the further spread of the virus.
Gauging from the nearly two years it took for the 2009 H1NI virus to taper off, COVID-19 will require months of drastic actions by governments to deprive it of hosts or before it is finally blotted into irrelevance with the production of a vaccine.
Hang tough, folks. We’re in for a grind.