MANILA - A former adviser to the government task force on COVID-19 response on Saturday said that a one time, big time lockdown is still needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic as infections continued to surge in the country.
Dr. Tony Leachon, who left the national task force on pandemic response in June, said this days into the return of the modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces on the request of the medical community for "breathing space" as coronavirus infections surged under eased restrictions.
The quarantine level will remain in effect until August 18.
“Kung talagang MECQ ang gusto nila, isagad nila ng isang buwan tapos i-build up na 'yung health care capacity. Magpa-flatten tayo ng curve,” said Dr. Tony Leachon.
(If they really want an MECQ, let's extend it to a month and build up health care capacity. We will flatten the curve.)
In an interview on ABS-CBN Teleradyo, Leachon said this would also be an opportunity to prepare the public for the arrival of a vaccine in December.
“Ngayon pa lang tayo umaarangkada sa health care capacity so one time, big time, and then dadating ang bakuna ng Disyembre, tamang-tama kasi ang mga countries sa mundo 3 buwan nilang na-flatten and curve, 'yun ang timeframe,” he said.
(We are just boosting our health care capacity now so one time, big time, then the vaccine will arrive in December, that's good timing because in other countries in the world they flattened the curve in 3 months, that's the timeframe.)
He said the Philippines needs to bridge the gap until a vaccine is made available.
“Kung tayo tentative in terms of management baka hindi natin maabot 'yun,” he said.
(If we are tentative in terms of management, we might not achieve that.)
The Philippines’ COVID-19 tally reached 122,754 on Friday, and the country is now the Southeast Asian nation with the most number of confirmed infections despite imposing one of the longest lockdowns in the world.
But rather than looking at numbers in other countries, Leachon said the Philippines should compare itself with its own metrics or baseline.
He said efforts must also focus on how to bring down the positivity rate, which is now at 11.9 percent amid increased testing.
“Nangangahulugan po 'yan na talagang may local transmission,” he said.
In the case of Cebu, the positivity rate was at 33 percent in June then decreased to 7 percent when it was placed under enhanced community quarantine.
“Sa akin, OK 'yang malantad positivity rate para alam ng tao, aware, tugusin natin para mapababa cases sa labas para walang ma-admit sa loob ng ospital,” he said.
(For me, it's OK to reveal this so that people know and they are aware so we can lower the cases and people won't have to be admitted in hospital.)
The physician added that he is more optimistic today than in the early months of the pandemic as the government has more testing centers and contact tracers, and a new command center has been launched.
"Unang mga buwan mabagal tayo sa testing, sa contact tracing, may command center na tayo ngayon at maraming isolation areas,” he said.
(On the first month we were slow in testing, contact tracing, now we have a command center and many isolation areas.)
Local cases in the Philippines started rising in March, and a strict lockdown was enforced on the same month.
Leachon hopes the Philippines could also replicate the success story of Italy, among the worst-hit in Europe, where health experts not only from the government are included in every health care capacity effort.
He said Italy ramped up recruitment of doctors to help out in making decisions on the COVID-19 crisis.
Leachon also suggested tapping what he called “moonlighting” medical workers to help in the fight against COVID-19 instead of transferring manpower resources to other provinces which may cause an imbalance in the number of personnel in that particular area.
These are doctors who finished medicine but did not go through a residency program because of low pay.
He believes this is the solution to the growing problem of lack of human resources to augment exhausted health workers who have been in the frontlines of the virus fight for months.
Some of these doctors, he said, are currently "unproductive" and should be recruited.
"I think 'yun ang solusyon dito. Marami sa kanila nasa bahay lang, unproductive. Ang iba d'yan nasa call centers. Dapat 'yun ang irecruit nila,” he said.
(I think that's the solution here. Many of them are just at home, unproductive. Others are in call centers. They should be recruited.)
The health department recently said barrio doctors from far-flung provinces would be brought back to Metro Manila to help in attending to the surge in cases.