Lift restrictions in areas with no or few COVID-19 cases, ex-MSU president advises gov’t

Ronron Calunsod, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 30 2020 12:55 AM

MANILA - Restrictions that suppressed economic, cultural and social activities must be lifted in Philippine areas with no or few coronavirus infections, while “surgical or close quarter” interventions continue in identified hotspots of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a former university head advised the government on Monday.

Macapado Muslim, former president and current professor at the Mindanao State University, wrote in a policy paper that he said he submitted to government, that the adoption of a “problem-focusing strategy” is a “crucial cost-saving strategy” that will “enable us in the Philippines to learn to live with the COVID-19 temporarily, and aggressively engage it, while we still do not have the effective vaccine and cure for it.”

“Our country’s strategic gains in the past more than three months should be sustained and leveraged to hasten the three ongoing processes of derestrictization, economic reopening and reinvigoration, and social restoration, which aim to bring about normalization to the country as early as possible,” said the paper, a copy of which was seen by ABS-CBN News.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to announce Tuesday new community quarantine classifications across the country beginning July 1.

Until Tuesday, the central Philippine city of Cebu is under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest classification currently in force in the country, while its neighboring Talisay City is under modified ECQ. The rest of the country, including Metro Manila, are either under the more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ) or modified GCQ.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country swelled to 36,438 on Monday, of which, 9,956 patients have recovered, while 1,255 succumbed to the disease. The Philippines logged its first case on Jan. 30 in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan, China where the disease was first detected.

Muslim recommended that since areas with high incidence of infections have already been identified, “more aggressive interventions” should be targeted there to prevent the spread of the disease.

“The national government should reconsider the implementation of its program of assisting returning Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Locally Stranded Individuals (LSIs) to their respective provinces and cities,” Muslim wrote.

“Pursuing it may undermine the current stable and less problematic health situation in 59 provinces and 15 cities which are unaffected or less affected by COVID-19,” he said, adding it “has the potential to put to naught the significant gains we have made."

Hailing Duterte's "decisive move... to impose wide-ranging and tough lockdown and community quarantine orders covering practically the whole country," Muslim said the "daring political formula has saved many lives who could have perished without the said containment measures."

The less affected areas, Muslim said, should be insulated even from people from heavily affected areas like Metro Manila and Cebu City. The two urban centers, he said, should “perform dual spread control roles such as preventing imported cases, and impeding transmissions from their localities to the unaffected and less affected (local government units).”

Meanwhile, major restrictions, except wearing of masks, should be lifted in the unaffected and less affected areas so people there can engage in economically productive activities, sparing the government from allocating “costly economic mitigation interventions” and other support programs there.

Except for Metro Manila and Cebu City, Muslim noted, based on data from the Department of Health as of June 20, that "the vast majority of the provinces and cities in the country in the three island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao... have remained unaffected or less affected by COVID-19 for the last four months."

Nine provinces, he said, have zero cases, while many others only have single-digit and double-digit numbers. 

“All economic, educational, religious, cultural, and social activities shall resume in the said (local government units) as they were before the advent of COVID-19,” Muslim said in his recommendation for the said areas.

“Doing this will save substantial sum of money which can be used for the strengthening of government interventions in the focus areas, particularly (National Capital Region) and Cebu, and the few moderately affected areas.”

Muslim, who handles public administration and political science doctoral students at the MSU in Marawi City, said all major academic activities should resume in the less and unaffected areas, although students will continue to be required to wear face masks.

He subscribes, meanwhile, essentially to the recommendations of the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education as regards the academic activities in areas under ECQ, MECQ, and GCQ.

Meanwhile, Muslim underscores the need to strengthen the country’s COVID-19 data management “for efficient and effective problem analysis, intervention planning, calibration, customizing, and implementation and control.”

“Our current experience with the COVID-19 illustrates how cumbersome weak data management in health crisis governance can be, and the experience of other countries like Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore … show how efficient data management help a lot in the successful suppression of the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Muslim said his policy paper is an “unsolicited service-oriented contribution” to government, noting that the pandemic requires “a multidisciplinary mix of experts” in “crafting social policies to contain the virus, or in designing a lockdown exit strategy or de-escalation plan.”

According to him, Duterte's remarks that "we are running out of money" for the battle against COVID-19 prompted him to write the paper.