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Embracing the new normal: It’s up to you now

By EDSEL MAURICE SALVANA, MD, DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA

Illustration by ARIANA CAMILLE MARALIT

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After nearly six weeks of enhanced community quarantine, the strategy to slow down the coronavirus seems to be working. While Covid-19 has not been eliminated, the steady number of new daily cases as opposed to the overwhelming surge in other countries shows we shut down just in time. But this war is not yet won. The virus is still around. As we try to rebuild our economy, the focus and responsibility shift from the restrictionsput in place by the government to the cooperation of the private sector and the individual. The success of the new normal and what happens next depends on how well we can mitigate risk and arrest further spread.

 1. The fight will not be over until a vaccine arrives or there is enough herd immunity.

 A vaccine is at least a year out. Trials for effective treatments are ongoing and will show some results in one to three months. In the meantime, measures to reduce transmission such as wearing masks, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distancing will mitigate the spread of disease. Allowing natural herd immunity—i.e. infecting everyone without giving them the means to protect themselves to achieve immunity—is unethical, will result in millions of lives lost, and is a worst-case scenario. We need to continue to decrease virus transmission through evidence-based means, strengthening our healthcare systems while we wait. This is the only way to minimize the body count and eventually get to a long-term solution.

2. ECQ works, but it is not sustainable.

The ECQ has saved many lives, maybe up to hundreds of thousands of lives. The risk of another surge, however,once it is modified or relaxed will remain as long as the virus is still present. ECQ is also not sustainable. It comes at a great cost to our economy and the working population. The goal is to consolidate the gains of the ECQ by putting programs and facilities in place to better handle the influx of more patients, while gradually allowing expanded economic activity to ensure that people have enough money to eat.

3. The new normal is up to you, and the need for another ECQ is dependent on how well we stick to the new normal.

 ECQ is an enforced policy, and ensures most people stay at home. When it is relaxed, it is essential that people stick to the measures that decrease the risk of transmission even if some are allowed outside their homes. Offices and public transport remain potential hotspots, so universal masking, social distancing, and frequent handwashing need to be practiced. Otherwise, cases are sure to surge and the working population will bring the virus to their homes and their communities.

4. If you are sick, isolate yourself immediately. If you cannot do this properly at home, let your barangay officials know.

 While home quarantine is more comfortable for most people, not all households are able to do this, especially for those without multiple rooms. Isolation is essential in early disease to prevent transmission to household contacts, and most LGUs have set up community quarantine facilities for this purpose. It is impossible for LGUs to go house to house to check for sick people, and so it becomes an act of responsible citizenship to report your condition to the authorities. This self-reporting cannot be over-emphasized and underpins the success of relaxing the ECQ measures.

5. The private sector needs to partner with government for a modified ECQ to succeed.

Government has tried very hard to expand testing and isolation facilities. The sheer magnitude of the problem means that the private sector needs to pitch in and provide similar or better facilities. There should be an option to make this financially sustainable (within reason) for the private sector for those who can afford services since businesses and employees are running out of money. Economic activity generates employment for people, increases resources to provide services, and provides taxation income for government. A new “economy” can grow out of this necessity that will generate much needed local production for personal protective equipment, testing supplies, as well as transformation of hotel and leisure facilities into health facilities that can act as stepdown units from hospitals. These facilities can be made into isolation hubs that can augment what the government can provide.

The key to our country weathering this crisis is in our hands. Are we willing to cooperate and sacrifice? The success of the current ECQ says yes. Will we be able to keep this discipline if a partial lifting of the restrictions is done? That is the biggest unknown. We all need to understand what is at stake—our country, the economy, and our lives. Our lives are in each other’s hands. It’s man versus virus. It cannot be every man for himself. It has to be everyone for each other.

Edsel Maurice T. Salvana, MD, DTM&H, FPCP, FIDSA is an internationally recognized infectious diseases specialist and molecular biologist at the University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital. He is the director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at UP Manila. He has spoken and written extensively on the COVID-19 outbreak, and serves on the Technical Advisory Group of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/04/24/embracing-the-new-normal-its-up-to-you-now/)

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