Malilong: Again, the question: ECQ or GCQ?

The Other Side

GCQ or ECQ, that is the question. The retired general whom Malacañang sent to oversee the battle against the coronavirus in Cebu says a downgrade of restrictions in Cebu City is possible but the country’s health chief apparently does not share his optimism. He was quoted as saying in Manila that the city will remain under ECQ because our hospitals are already overwhelmed.

The decision rests ultimately with President Duterte. Whose recommendation will he heed, that of Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, his man on the ground, or that of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who should know better about public health but who has rarely set foot in Cebu and relies heavily on reports from his subordinates?

The recent statement of another Cabinet member may provide a clue. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said a few days ago that Metro Manila will remain under GCQ despite the recent surge of Covid-19 cases in the area to prevent the economy from collapsing. I do not see how the same argument cannot be applied to Cebu City.

It is important to always bear in mind, however, that the same safety protocols apply, regardless of whether we’re on GCQ or ECQ: wear a mask when going outdoor, observe social distancing and practice personal hygiene. We should learn a lesson from our brief fling with the GCQ when Covid-19 cases soared because we refused to abide by the prescribed safety measures.

Let us behave like the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans and our other Asian neighbors instead of like the Americans and most of the Europeans. The US president does not wear a mask. Neither did the Brazilian head of state. The US Covid-19 situation is worse than ours or for that matter that of any other country in the world. In the case of Brazil, after recently testing positive for the virus, its president has ordered his countrymen to wear masks in public.

Fisticuffs have marked the enforcement of mask-wearing in the US as many Americans continue to defy regulations, many invoking constitutional grounds. And in France last Monday, a bus driver was declared brain-dead after he was attacked for refusing to let passengers board unless they wore masks. The three are among the top 20 countries with the most number of Covid-19 infections, with the US and Brazil ranked first and second, respectively. France is in 16th place, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

Regarding Duque’s observation that our hospital utilization rate is at critical level, the government is largely to blame. In fact, when this pandemic shall have been over, hopefully, the government should revisit its policies on the licensing of hospitals and the opening of medical and nursing schools. These institutions should be encouraged, not stifled, by archaic rules and regulations.

A case in point: during the Aquino administration, two separate applications were filed to establish two hospitals in a neighboring city. The National Government did not approve either application immediately because the regulators wanted only one hospital to be located in the area. The applicants were made to go through the proverbial eye of the needle before both were green-lighted to begin construction. These hospitals are now providing critical care to many Covid-19 patients.

The government has also frowned on the creation of more medical and nursing schools. The old Southern Islands Hospital School of Nursing was one of the country’s best until it was closed many years ago. Recent efforts were reportedly made by some alumni to reopen it but they have fallen victim to government foot-dragging.

If we had more nursing schools and more training hospitals, we would have had a deeper bench and protected our nurses from being overwhelmed. We cannot expect our nurses and, for that matter, all health professionals to work beyond the limits of human endurance.

The additional pay coming from the local government is good and should buoy our health workers’ spirits. Unfortunately, it will not prevent them from getting tired. Or hasn’t anyone heard of the old saw that the spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak?


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