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Lock it down

COVID-19 cases are surging in this country, as confirmed daily infections have hit an unbelievable all-time high, one full year into the uniquely Filipino ordeal of government putting more than 100 million people under one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns.

It has become clear that the quarantine alphabet soup and lockdowns didn’t work. The wave was never flattened and without mass testing, coordinated contact tracing, and mass vaccination, it is naturally cresting once more. Infections are surging and a Metro Manila lockdown looks inevitable but because government cannot afford to use the word lockdown, they will just have a “bubble”, so assistance and ayuda is not necessary for the thousands of workers and families whose lives will be affected by the new round of restrictions.

Whatever happens to Metro Manila and other COVID-19 hotspots, the important thing at this point is Negros Island and those areas where infections are still under control should be allowed to do anything and everything they can to keep their infection rates manageable.

What is happening to the Philippines right now is the best argument for a shift to more decentralized, federal-style government.

If our provincial and local government officials had more independence from national government and our country’s largely ineffective and schizophrenic IATF, and we had leaders who weren’t afraid of offending some great leader, our borders would’ve been closed as early as last week when the number of daily COVID-19 infections started their worrying spike.

We cannot afford to handle any kind of spike and our officials who could do something should’ve done everything in their power to stop potential sources of infection from coming in and setting back all the work that had been done in the past few months to contain COVID-19 on this island. We were getting something in the range of 16-20 something daily infections last week while the nation was wowing the world with its 7,999. If 50-100 of the thousands of infected people somehow manage to slip into our borders, there will be essentially nothing we can do to stop the rejuvenated spread of the virus.

We may have kept the numbers down in the past few months but if you come to think of it, our contact tracing and mass testing still sucks. Quarantine facilities are still scary, making people dread being tested for fear of being found positive and hauled away to those uncomfortable facilities. Our health care systems have barely improved over the past year and is no way near being capable of handling any sort of surge. While token vaccinations have begun, mass vaccination remains a dream.

The bottom line is if we cannot stop infected people from slipping through the cracks of our uncoordinated defense systems, we are so doomed. We need to lock down everything that can be locked down. From our homes to our borders, preventing the outside world from coming in has to be a priority for the next 2-4 weeks.

Our local economy is currently surviving but we cannot afford or risk another outbreak. The flow of people from hotspots has to be stopped. We knew that disregarding the natural defense that comes with being in an archipelagic country was a mistake when we allowed national government to send people back home after the lockdowns of 2020 eased. We cannot make the same mistake again, now that infections are surging out of control in other areas.

The towns and cities of Negros Island don’t have to shut down their borders and economies if we can shut down our island ASAP, before it’s too late. We can still take care of whatever COVID-19 cases are already here but if too many slip through, the ensuing shutdowns will be more devastating. Given the incompetence of the people in charge, 10,000 cases a day before the end of March is a real possibility but if our local officials act quickly and decisively now, majority of those infections can still be kept outside our island borders.

Let’s admit it. Our testing, contact tracing and monitoring capabilities suck almost as bad as the capacity of our healthcare system. A year has passed but no Philippine island can handle any surge. Given our level of preparedness, we should’ve shut down our borders 1 week ago. Just as it’s every man for himself, it’s every island to themselves in this country. Apologies to those who have family members and loved ones who may be stranded outside our borders, but they’ll have to lock themselves in wherever they may be stranded, as we lock everybody else out.

No LSI, OFW, APOR, tourists for 2-4 weeks. No flights, no boats, no roro. If necessary, let’s suspend or abstain from online shopping. Let’s test our self-sufficiency and readiness for federalism, maybe even consider secession from national government if, as the COVID-19 pandemic has essentially exposed, it is proven useless anyway.

It’s a no-brainer. Our island has to be locked down. We need to lock out the world for a couple of weeks.

What are we waiting for?*

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