February 23, 2024

The city government’s Covid-19 policy implementations went through a period of evaluation by University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB) professors from September 2020 to April 2021, examining the city’s public health response as well as economic strategies, and how effective the messages from both sectors were communicated to the public.

In a lecture delivered via webinar on Aug. 8, UPB professors Rosemary M. Gutierrez, Corazon L. Abansi, and Ruth M. Tindaan tapped into the disciplines of biology, economics, and linguistics to unpack the nuances of the city’s pandemic policies within a six-month period through the interdisciplinary approach.

Initiated under the auspices of UPB’s Cordillera Studies Center (CSC), the study provided an assessment of the city government’s policy response on the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly at the levels of public health and economics.

The study included an evaluation of the strategies deployed by city officials in communicating pandemic narratives to the public.

Gutierrez, lead research proponent and professor of Biology, inquired into the public health component of the city’s Covid-19 policy specifically whether compliance with standards set by the World Health Organization applies in the local setting enough to determine best practices in public health. The research sampling consisted of respondents from thirty establishments consisting of universities, government agencies, hotels, supermarkets, drugstores, banks, and telecommunication companies.

Gutierrez, UP Baguio’s vice-chancellor for academic affairs, observed that some of the disinfection measures undertaken in the early days of the pandemic such as chemical fogging and spraying were matters that raised concerns among experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control due to its potential as irritants because the particles are suspended in mid-air. 

She said this procedure requires the administration by trained professionals because it requires the handling of chemicals which must be recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

She added disinfection using ultra-violet lamps is generally ineffective and potentially risky because of harmful radiation emissions.

However, Gutierrez said of all the WHO-recommended public health protocols, the city through the establishments surveyed has generally complied with common health protocols such as temperature checks, hand sanitizing, physical distancing, contact tracing, the wearing of face masks and face shields, as well as the provision for foot baths.

Gutierrez said these measures were commonly observed among the establishments because these are easier to comply with and are less costly. She said the triage system is observed the least because it entails more expense due to the need to hire professionals such as doctors and nurses.

However, work establishments have generally exerted all efforts to establish a safe work environment such as the installation of protective barriers, reduced work hours, skeletal schedules, and the setting of appointments for office transactions.

Gutierrez observed the persons in charge of implementing health protocols in these establishments are often the company managers instead of a medical team.

Abansi, UPB chancellor and an Economics professor and scientist,  said the city experienced a significant decline in economic growth with just a month’s lockdown. 

She explained based on the city’s pre-Covid 19 projected growth rate of 7.3 percent, the economy went down to 5.3 percent under an enhanced community quarantine  or a two percent decline in growth rate.

“The decline is significant,” Abansi said.

The effect of growth decline is felt with a downturn in the city’s gross domestic product,of which the goods and services severely affected were the tourism industry, small and medium enterprises, wholesale and retail trade outlets, local accommodation,and transportation.

Abansi said the “annual foregone income” from tourism in 2021 is P3.7 billion with losses in domestic tourist arrivals amounting to P3.5B. 

She said the cancellation of Panagbenga activities alone accounts for 81 percent decline in tourist arrivals, affecting services such as restaurants with losses as much as P322.5 million. While the resumption of manufacturing shored up the economy, job losses in business process outsourcing were significant with 6,000 vacated positions.

Abansi said the adoption of sound monetary policies by the city government forestalled the economy from sliding into recession.

She cited local government spending as one of the important measures implemented for continued monetary circulation such as the stimulus package given to barangays and purchase of basic necessities such as food packs. 

The declaration of a state of calamity enabled the release of public funds which was also augmented by the city government and the public sector, Abansi explained.

She said the city government specifically augmented the income of the transportation sector with cash subsidies for jeepney drivers with special permits to operate, and soft loans for MSMEs to enable their businesses to recover and ensure liquidity.

Policies were communicated to the public by the city government under this pandemic context.

Tindaan, associate professor of English, said public information were framed “metaphorically”, explaining that the metaphor of “covidization”, for instance, sends the message that Covid-19 is “more than a transient event.”

She added if the disease is here to stay, the city government will brace itself not only for a new normal but a better normal.

Tindaan added the medical community also used the metaphor of “warfare” to indicate that the disease is the enemy and therefore the public should put up defenses such as face masks, face shields, and vaccination. The public becomes a part of the “war” since individual behavior translated to communal benefit. Tindaan calls this “moral ecology.”

The familiar “hammer-and-dance” metaphor by Tomas Pueyo was adopted by the city government to explain that coercive measures such as lockdowns (hammer) are necessary to stop the transmission of disease even as economic activities will also reopen (dance) if cases are brought under control. 

Tindaan said the city’s narrative has been to observe a delicate balance of activities in order to “break the chain of transmission.”

The city government earned praises for its pandemic response and crisis management earning commendations from no less than the WHO. The city also distinguished itself for exemplary crisis response in the early days of the pandemic. – Roland Rabang