Senators suggest adjustments to lifestyle after COVID-19 quarantine is lifted

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Some senators have suggested some adjustments to lifestyle by the public after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, is lifted.

Senator Nancy Binay has admitted that it is difficult to balance life and economy, amid the COVID-19 threat.

Binay  said people still need to commute. “But perhaps”, she said,  “we can adjust the working hours of essential businesses and industries to change the commute time.”

She said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) can also allocate bigger and safer bike lanes so that “we can encourage others to consider other options like biking.”

Binay was reacting to the DOTr’s statement that it is looking at the possibility of resuming operations of public transportation particularly buses and trains, but only at 30 percent capacity, to comply with physical distancing measures.

Binay said buses and trains are a perfect environment for  droplet-spread diseases, and are considered infection hotspots.

“So physical distancing is a big challenge inside a bus or train  if one coughed or sneezed. Regardless of the seat, the spread of the virus cannot be avoided simply because surfaces in any public transport setting are most likely to harbor bacteria and virus,” explained Binay.

“During Senate hearings, they’re always saying the rehab of MRT is not yet full blast so it’s better to fix everything first. When the ECQ is over, the train system would be fixed,” also said Binay.

Senator Joel Villanueva said strict safety and health protocols are in place and this should be combined with the gradual lifting of the quarantine.

He said it is necessary to give assurance that the government can also control the demand for public transportation.

Aside from the drivers wearing protective gears, he also proposed the conduct of weekly random testing of drivers to make sure they monitor the incidence of COVID-19  among them, Villanueva said.

“Our premise is on essential sectors, we should always open with this modified and gradual lifting… then 30 percent  of the capacity only, then very strict monitoring of protocols,” he added.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III favored the partial resumption provided the public transport will be made available only for essential workers such as health workers, selected businesses such as food manufacturing, finance/banking, groceries and public markets among others.

Meanwhile, Senator Leila de Lima said that without yet a cure for the virus, total lifting of ECQ is definitely out of the question, a non-option.

She noted that a total  lockdown, wide-scale, while theoretically an option, is unacceptable.

“A more hungry and angry populace is a veritable social volcano,” she said.

“Pwede siguro ang total lockdown on a strictly case-to-case basis, barangay or district level and for a very limited duration, under clear guidelines with sufficient provisions for sustenance of the affected community,” she added.

“That leaves us with two choices—continue with the present ECQ or attempt a calibrated lifting of the ECQ after April 30, especially in places outside of NCR that are registering minimal levels of COVID infection. However, we can only make the right choice between the two based on reliable and complete data,” De Lima said.

De Lima said the DOH data is incomplete as it only records the death of those tested positive for COVID-19. She said the DOH is silent on the tens or hundreds dying in hospitals or in their homes who were not tested for the virus, and therefore are not even included in any government documentation as deaths most probably arising from COVID-19 infection.

“We are not even performing post-mortem tests as a policy,” she said.

On the other hand, she said the data on COVID-19 positives is less indicative of the total infection in the country than of the daily capability of RITM to process COVID-19 tests. It is merely the daily average of tests processed by Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and other COVID-19 testing centers nationwide, rather than a measurement of how widespread the virus infection in the entire country actually is.

Anyone who relies on DOH’s data on the infected, the dead, and the recovered to conclude that the country is flattening the curve are not only raising false hopes, they are also endangering the public as well. “We are not flattening the curve because there is no hard data available on which we can base this conclusion, hard data that can only be available through mass testing,” she said.

“We should test, test, test, like what all successful advanced country models such as Germany and South Korea have done,” said De Lima.

As this developed, Senator Imee Marcos said pursuing tax reform now is very bad timing because practically all economic activities have been affected by shutdowns.

She said tax reform is incompatible with an economic stimulus period when tax relief is in fact part of the solution.

“Tax (ing) in the time of COVID 19 will expectedly suffer,” she said.

She noted that traditional sources of government revenues like taxes in any form, be it individual, corporate, customs duties, consumer sales, etc., will all be hit because the economy is in a virtual standstill. Rather than resort to more borrowing, why not explore debt relief, she said.

Acting National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary  Karl Chua  said the government must pursue its tax reform program or else  it might be forced to borrow more money to finance its response to COVID-19. /Stacy Ang

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