SitRep 2: Philippines

It has been 3 weeks since the Enhanced Community Quarantine has commenced. Everyone in Luzon, where Manila is located, is required to stay at home except for certain individuals such as employees of establishments allowed to operate, law enforcement and certain public officials, health workers and media, and people who have a quarantine pass for the purpose of buying basic necessities. Operation of mass public transportation is suspended. 

Our report on the food security crisis in the Philippines covers the haphazard and inconsistent implementation of the lockdown in more detail. 

Cases, Testing, and Forecasts

As of April 6, there are 3,246 confirmed COVID-19 patients, 152 deceased and 51 recovered patients. The doubling time of confirmed has decreased from about 3.5 days to 4.25 days, but this is complicated by the Philippines having one of lowest testing rates per capita in the world. The primary bottleneck is accredited laboratories that can process PCR assays in RNA sequencers. The bottleneck is both geographic and capacity. 

Lower is better

In terms of capacity, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) is now processing 900-1000 tests/day, while six other labs are processing 100-200/day. The government expects to expand testing capacity to 3000/day by March 16th. There are 14 labs with testing capacity that have been rated Stage 1 and another 18 rated Stage 2. Complicating this is geography. Most of these labs are in and around Manila with just two outside the NCR (Cebu and Davao). For the same reason Enhanced Community Quarantine is making food delivery into Manila difficult, we assume it’s difficult to get an assay shipped across the country in a timely manner.

There are a few tools that can offer a window into what the numbers might be in the Philippines. For instance, assuming a 0.9% infection/fatality ratio and roughly 27 days from infection to death, there were roughly 17,000 infections in the Philippines on March 10th. This is roughly in line with epidemiological forecasts, of which there are now five with wide ranging estimates. Most of them assume at least 250,000 infections in the NCR, but their peaks range from mid-April to mid-June. Most of them assume that Enhanced Community Quarantine has not lowered the R0 to below 1 like the Chinese lockdowns. The broadly assume a baseline R0 of 2.4, which ECQ has reduced by 55% to roughly 1.4. 

Given those assumptions and the testing capacity available, it would take 83 days to confirm positive test results at the predicted capacity scaled up three-fold. Most alarming is that most of these forecasts are only looking at the NCR of Manila. The only forecast that looked at the entire country came from UP Los Banos, which assumed an R0 of 3.3 to 3.5. Recent studies have estimated that the pre-lockdown R0 in Wuhan was 3.7. They estimate COVID-19 will burn through the provinces until herd immunity is reached (70% infected) sometime in September or August. This would be a disaster, given that many provinces in the Philippines have just one or two ventilators.

The Struggle with ECQ

Despite the protocols imposed in relation to the Enhanced Community Quarantine, Filipino families struggle for economic survival. They feel compelled to provide for their families. Thus, the government is obliged to provide a clear and established support and social amelioration measures. President Duterte announced in a televised address Monday night that the government has allocated ₱200 billion ($3.9 billion) worth of assistance for low-income households, farmers, and fisherfolk.

Last March 30, 2020, the government attest the JMC on the Special Guidelines on the Provision of Social Amelioration Program.The JMC serves as guidelines and basis by and among DSWD, DOLE, DTI, DA, DOF, DBM and DILG to coordinate and harmonize its many social amelioration programs to mitigate the socio-economic effect of the COVID-19 crisis and the Enhanced Community Quarantine Guidelines. This emphasizes the whole-of-nation approach in focusing on food insecurity, hunger, sudden loss of income, and unemployment in order to guarantee the well-being of FIlipino people. 

The “Bayanihan to Heal As One” Act entitles each eligible family to claim ₱5,000 up to ₱8,000 ($98 to $158) in cash depending on regional minimum wage rate for basic food, medicine and toiletries. RA 11469 states that the Emergency Subsidy Program (ESP) shall be implemented for two (2) months covering the months of April and May, 2020. The Emergency Subsidy shall be distributed through any of the programs enumerated in Section 7 as long as the total amount from various social amelioration programs does not exceed the prescribed thresholds as defined in this JMC. With that being said, people doubt that this could be a way of corruption due to its red tapes. 

Two two dozen hungry protesters took to the streets on April 1st demanding assistance. The video of the Quezon City Police District aggressively arresting them went viral. Seeing hungry people violently arrested has enraged many Filipinos who don’t think arrests are a solution to the growing food security crisis in Manila. That night, President Duterte warned that anyone who disrupts this will suffer the consequences during this time of crisis. As the country is under a “state of national emergency”, President Duterte has been granted emergency powers to face COVID-19. The new law gives Duterte the authority to reallocate the 2020 national budget for COVID-19 project.

Some P5 million worth of personal protective equipment and medical supplies were allegedly seized by the Bureau of Customs from Binondo which will be forfeited and donated to the Philippine General Hospital or to wherever it is needed. The items include face masks, gloves, goggles, alcohol, thermal scanners, test tubes and syringes. Customs Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla says that he is pushing forward a Memorandum of Agreement with law enforcement agencies allowing the BOC to fast track forfeit of seized items that can help the frontliners. Currently, frontliners are still short of PPE. 

Further news, LGUs are urging DSWD to release more of the assistance they have power over. LGUs funding is almost empty. People are urging the LGU and DSWD to work hand in hand in providing the best welfare for the Filipino people. The economy in the Philippines is also taking a hit before it reaches its inflection point. Just when the economy rises, this pandemic takes a toll on the economy as employees have a hard time working and businesses cannot operate as usual due to the impact of COVID19.

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