‘Rising despite lockdown’
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is one of nine countries that are seeing a rise in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases despite having the world’s toughest lockdowns to stop coronavirus transmission, according to a groundbreaking University of Oxford tracker that examines governments’ responses to the pandemic worldwide.
“Lockdowns are not silver bullets,” said Thomas Hale, head researcher of the Oxford team that worked on the tracker, in an e-mail to INQUIRER.net
Hale said while no conclusion could be had on whether lockdowns in the Philippines and the eight other countries had been effective, people should know that lockdowns simply give governments time to plan and implement more permanent measures to stop coronavirus transmission.
“The key question is, what are governments doing with the time they buy?” said Hale in his e-mail response to queries from INQUIRER.net. “Developing robust testing and contact tracing measures are likely key to long-term containment.”
Measure of toughness
The Oxford tracker placed the Philippines in the category “Rising Despite Lockdown” in the company of Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Iraq, Panama, Kuwait, China, and Oman.
The tracker, which is a continuing work, features an interactive world map. Click on any country on the map and it would show levels of lockdown stringency along with the number of COVID-19 cases.
A click on the Philippines on the map showed that while its lockdown measures are increasing in toughness by the day, the number of cases does, too.
At one point, the map showed, there was a surge of 1,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day in the Philippines when the lockdown was measured at 77.8 in toughness with 100 being the toughest.
The same patterns are shown on the Oxford tracker map since March, when lockdowns in many parts of the world, including the Philippines, started falling in place. In the case of the nine countries in the Rising Despite Lockdown category, as lockdowns get tougher, cases rise further.
Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) offer a glimpse of how tough the lockdowns were.
In June, PNP data showed, 2,875 people remained in jails nationwide after their arrest for violating quarantine protocol. That was already the time lockdowns in the Philippines were easing.
The PNP data also showed that between March 17 to May 31, at least 57,177 people had been arrested for the same violations.
A total of 188,348 people had been accosted or arrested by police for defying lockdown rules.
“Certainly, we would hope that a country deploying a number of closure and containment policies would see cases fall,” said Hale.
Assessing the effectiveness of lockdowns, however, would require a more careful review of the situation in each country, he said.
“For example, closure and containment policies might be slowing the growth rate in new cases, even if it is rising,” said Hale.
“More rarely, a growing number of cases may be associated with greater testing, which could accompany lockdown policies,” he said.
He sought to clarify, though, that the Oxford tracker, which is being updated regularly, measures only government policies toward the pandemic and “not how well they are implemented or enforced.”
“Many factors can limit the effectiveness of closure and containment policies,” said Hale, who is also an associate professor in public policy at Oxford’s Balavatnik School of Government.
Worldwide, he said, “we observe a wide range of factors conditioning public adherence to lockdown policies.”
According to Hale, these included “trust in government, availability of economic support, clarity of communication” and others.
Hale said lockdown effectivity would largely depend on the people in communities where quarantine measures are being implemented.
“Even if the majority follows the rules, even a few small incidents may cause a new flare-up of the disease,” said Hale.
“They are very costly policy governments can use to break the train of transmission and buy time,” he added.
“Various measures that are used globally to increase compliance are: economic support for low-income workers, clear communication, and winning public trust,” said Hale.
While the University of Oxford tracker steered clear of concluding if lockdowns had been effective or not, it described the numbers it saw in the Rising Despite Lockdown category as “worrying.”
The other categories in the Oxford tracker are:
- Relaxed and Rising. These are countries that had eased lockdowns and are seeing a surge in cases.
- Cautious as Cases Rise. Classification of countries that have been slow in relaxing lockdown measures because of continued spikes in cases.
- Relaxed and Recovering. Classification of countries that have seen dramatic declines in the number of cases and are smoothly opening up.
- Cautious as Cases Fall. These are countries that are slow in opening up although the number of cases is falling.
- Lockdown Flattening Curve. Classification of countries where lockdowns had succeeded in bringing the number of cases down.
The toughness of the Philippine lockdown had prompted a word of caution from Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based organization, which on its website said violations of human rights need not be a natural consequence of the fight against the pandemic.
“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations,” HRW said in a report on its website in March when the Philippine lockdown was in its early days.
HRW cited several instances when enforcing tough lockdown measures could have gone too far.
One was the detention of five youths in a dog cage on March 20 in the town of Sta. Cruz, Laguna province after they were caught violating the curfew. Police had said it was done because of the lack of jail space and to protect the young offenders from getting infected in cramped detention facilities.
Another was the punishment meted on curfew violators in Paranaque City, Metro Manila—making them seat under a noon sun. Authorities are currently investigating the case.
Probably the most infamous image of the toughness of the Philippines’ lockdown is the killing at a quarantine checkpoint of former soldier Winston Ragos, who had been suffering from war shock or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ragos was outside his home when police manning the checkpoint called his attention for violation of stay-at-home orders. The ex-soldier dug into his sling bag to produce documents to show he had a permit to be outside his home. According to reports, police thought Ragos was getting his gun so he was shot.
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