Government admits mishandling Covid-19 threat

By Estanislao Albano, Jr.

“If they could ban all foreigners in late March, there was no reason they could not do it in January when it could have had the maximum impact on our national well-being. “

The adage “A-anhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo?” best depicts the decision of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to keep all foreigners off the country temporarily to prevent further spread of the Covid-19 virus effective March 22, 2020 (“PH barring foreigners; DFA says no exceptions”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 20, 2020) because by that time, we already had a full-blown public health crisis with 25 deaths and 380 confirmed cases of the deadly virus.
This belated action of the government is a clear admission of the mishandling of the virus threat at the crucial stage. The information on other affected countries was already available before January 29 when question of whether or not the country should impose a travel ban on China was discussed. But what did the national leadership do? Instead of using the information in favor of the immediate declaration of a travel ban on China since the failure of these countries to shut their doors to China soon enough had led to their situation, they employed the information to shot down the option!
President Rodrigo Duterte said a ban would be unfair to China and there is no confirmed case yet in the country. Senator Christopher Go on the other hand said a travel ban on China would be unfair because other countries were already affected. This was on top of the thinking of Health Secretary Francisco Duque that a ban would be bad for the relationship of the country and China. To my mind, what they should have done at that point was to declare a ban on all the countries with known Covid-19 cases and not just on China. Or even banned all foreigners from entering the country like the DFA did just now after “namatay na ang kabayo.” Either action would not have only reduced the threat to us Filipinos but also have eliminated any reason for China to feel singled out.
Clearly, there was a failure of common sense and foresight. How could the health experts of the Department of Health not have seen that each visitor from countries with known cases was a potential carrier? How could these national officials not have realized that Filipinos would be much safer if all possible entry points of the virus were plugged as soon as possible? This missteps can be forgiven if it was only due to an innocent lapse or failure to consider possible scenarios. But what happened was unacceptable and ignoble the fact that from their own justifications as to why the ban could not be declared at that time, it was clear that Duterte, Duque and Go were more concerned with what China would feel than with the highest welfare of the Filipino people.
With this pathetically late action of the DFA, the Duterte Administration owns up to bungling the Covid-19 threat at the early stages thereby unnecessarily putting more Filipinos in harm’s way. If they could ban all foreigners in late March, there was no reason they could not do it in January when it could have had the maximum impact on our national well-being. **

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