It has been more than 500 days since our pandemic ordeal began and if you come to think of it, aside from the constantly revolving quarantine status wheel of fortune, nothing has changed for Filipinos.
Five hundred days have passed, yet Covid-19 testing is still inaccessible, inconvenient and discouraged by a system that punishes rather than assists those found positive. The biggest statistic that confirms the lack of testing in this country is the positivity rate. Australia, South Korea and some European countries that heavily rely on testing to control the spread of the virus have testing positivity rates of as low as 1 percent, meaning they regularly conduct hundreds, if not thousands of tests for each case they find.
Our country has a positivity rate of 13.2 percent, as of July 28, 2021. It means we only do very few tests, probably only testing to confirm cases rather than to prevent the further spreadof the virus, and that testing algorithm leads to a higher percentage of hits.
Poor testing means we are fooling ourselves as the people in charge are unlikely to be testing widely enough to be able to find and isolate all cases, resulting in massive under-reporting. Data scientists believe that in countries with a high positivity rate, the number of confirmed cases may represent only a small fraction of the total number of cases.
According to the website www.ourworldindata.org, the positivity rate of the Philippines has not fallen below 10 percent since March 12, 2021. The World Health Organization recommends a positivity rate of below 10 percent and the countries where best practices have been observed have that statistic below 3 percent. That is how far our Covid-19 testing protocols lag behind the rest of the world and probably why Filipinos have been woefully unable to imagine any sort of recovery in our mid-term futures.
Testing sucks in this country because it is not encouraged. When people who test positive end up being punished, getting taken away from their homes and carted off to Filipino style “quarantine centers,” there is not much reason to be tested. Many Filipinos probably know they are Covid positive based on the nature of the close contact and symptoms that manifest but still refuse to be tested because of the hassle involved.
Aside from poor testing, we also have terrible contact tracing. It’s been 500 days and up to now, there is still no centralized contact tracing system in this country. All the information being gathered by the establishments required to contact trace is wasted because there is no system in place to gather and analyze the data and to send out alerts to those who could be potential danger of infection. Some places have a QR-based contact tracing “system” while others only have logbooks filled with unintelligible scrawls that have probably been erased by splashes of disinfectant. But in places like the Metro Bacolod area, that information is not shared and most likely unused. Just like most things our government has been doing throughout these 500 days, everything is mostly just for show and compliance.
The only thing we’ve been doing better than any other country in the planet is the mandatory face shield on top of the face mask. Despite no scientific data supporting the claim that face shields offer significant protection in non-hospital environments, all Filipinos need one to do anything in public. I guess it’s something.
Then there is our nationwide vaccination program, which has fully dosed less than 5 percent of the population and first dosed around only 10 percent. This is a long way from the goal of herd immunity, especially with the highly infectious Delta variant wreaking havoc on all previous assumptions, but at least our vaccination effort is finally gaining momentum.
We never thought things would still be this bad after 500 days but here we are, facing the Delta variant. The NCR will be going on ECQ again in a few days and, based on the lack of determination and creativity from our government, the never-ending quarantine status roulette is here to stay for at least another year.
It’s not too late to get serious about testing and contact tracing as we ramp up vaccination efforts, especially with Delta already on the loose. But if we base our future on past actions, all we can expect is another few rounds of the ECQ cha-cha, the entire country continuing to sway forward and back, perpetually in place but never really moving forward.
What has to happen before we can finally get out of this 500-day-and-counting rut?*