SUCH an excruciating experience to hear government functionaries attempt to take control of a raging national conversation by attempting to establish a perspective that at best depicts a false comparison of the situation refuted along with the trite expression “you can’t compare apples to oranges.”
I refer to presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s argument that the Philippines fared better in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic compared to the United States which had over 500,000 lives lost to Covid-19. Roque says on March 8 that with the Philippines racking up about 12,000 dead from the virus so far, the country’s situation is far less dire compared to the US in terms of fatalities. Besides, he adds, for the US – far richer economically and with modern hospitals – to mishandle its response to the pandemic, he believes the Philippine response should be adjudged “excellent.”
And there lies the false comparison. If the US concededly did poorly in its pandemic response, wherein this universe of hurt can we find the wherewithal to consider the Philippine response “excellent” by any stretch of the imagination?
The US politicized its earlier response to this pandemic ranging from the refusal of the former President Donald Trump to wear a mask or to endorse the wearing of one. He said ingesting bleach would rid the body of the virus but instead had the experimental antibody treatment by Regeneron when he himself contracted Covid-19. There was no unified strategy from the US federal government to mitigate the impact of the virus. As a result, it was left to the states to determine their own pandemic response or lack thereof which choice is largely determined by their own political persuasions. Consequently, the US put their numbers up as the leading nation in Covid-19 deaths and cases.
As the US economy fell into recession as a result of the pandemic’s impact on global businesses and industries, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the pandemic was grounded on the strength of the US economy and a robust stock market that was the cornerstone accomplishment of his administration until it was upended by Covid-19. That economic advantage, however, enabled the Trump administration to distribute individual stimulus checks amounting to $600 twice, and now newly elected president Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan is about to roll out $1400 in stimulus checks for all Americans.
Their vaccine rollout was tentative at first, but it gained enough momentum for the Biden government to have a million Americans obtain their shots in one day, then two million by their latest reporting. The variants have been detected, but the accelerated rate of vaccination enables them to get ahead of its adverse impact. They have pulled their positivity rates down as well as death rates. This gives Biden enough wiggle room to reasonably predict that Americans would be able to gather for a barbecue on Independence Day July 4.
Where in these three categories – control of outbreaks, economic assistance, and vaccine distribution – are you willing to sustain the government’s claim that its pandemic response was “excellent?” The highest daily count in 2020 was 6,725 confirmed cases on August 11. Last March 23, we had over 8,000 confirmed cases. On February 28, cases were under 3,000 per day. A week after vaccination rolled out on March 1, daily cases were under 3,500. Prior to the vaccine rollout, the administration had been toying around the idea of placing the country under a less restrictive modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) opening tourism, restaurants, even cinemas for business. And we did in some places. Whether out of excitement or frustration due to the “longest lockdown imposed in the world,” the outcome was dire. By March 16, a year after the lockdown was imposed in the country the day’s count was over 5,300.
This, despite the appointment of people of supreme importance like a vaccine “czar” or a contact tracing “czar” and a chief implementer. To this day, the threat of the Philippine health system being overwhelmed is still apparent, and “minimum health protocols” still remains the sad refrain. Secretary Duque still pokes you with a meter stick and says this is how far you should be with the other guy to be physically distant.
Not out of recalcitrance, but most Filipinos need to go to work. In the absence of governmental assistance, people need their jobs to survive, and one does so in spite of the prevailing public health threat. The P5,000-P8,000 social amelioration that lasted for two months beginning in April last year hardly made a dent in terms of sustaining the livelihood of people who lost their jobs as businesses and industries closed down due to the pandemic. While we hear proposals in Congress to revive this cash assistance, how long will it take once again before the measure takes effect? And so, the easiest route is a return to general community quarantine. Take the candy back from the child so to speak, and true enough, on March 20, as the National Capital Region pulled back to a so-called safety “bubble,” the daily case count was upwards of 7,000.
The reality is that we are not vaccinating fast enough. We still split hairs about the loan that was taken out to buy the vaccines, but no news is heard about the vaccine purchase or delivery that will make a significant dent against the ever-accelerating threat of infection of the virus and its variants. A breakthrough that would return us to a semblance of normality. Yet in July last year, the President declared that “By December (2020), tapos ito lahat. Ito ang guarantee ko, ang unang makakatanggap yung mahihirap.” Excellent? Go figure.