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Manila tries barangay incentive plan vs COVID

Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso of Manila has come up with an idea which he believes will help reduce the COVID-19 cases in the city – an incentive of P100,000 for any barangay which will record zero new cases for two months starting last Tuesday, September 1.

The national government’s action plan for the ongoing coronavirus problem has been to impose lockdowns of various strictness – starting with Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last March 16 in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon. The ECQ came with a list of restrictions on people – stay at home, except for hospital workers, police-military enforcers of the lockdown, and a few other authorized individuals. Without workers, businesses and offices of all kinds had to close down, resulting in the recession we are now in.

But the COVID cases continued to rise. The government blamed the “pasaway” – people who continued to move about, who wore no face masks or ignored social distancing. Many of these were actually homeless people who, therefore, had nowhere to go under the stay-at-home order. And many were jobless people who lived from day to day doing odd jobs like watching parked cars and scrounging for food in restaurants’ garbage cans. Some poor families managed to get financial aid from the government, but not enough.

The ECQ in Metro Manila was followed by less restrictive lockdowns – the Modified ECQ (MECQ), then the General CQ (GCQ). Back to Modified ECQ when harried hospital doctors and nurses appealed to President Duterte for a “time out,” then on to GCQ again. Nearly six months after March 16, Metro Manila remains in lockdown under GCQ.

The government’s anti-COVID strategy has been built around restrictions and they have helped, but cases continue somehow. Clearly, something more needs to be done. Manila Mayor Moreno hopes that giving a monetary incentive to barangays to keep a closer watch on their people in their sometimes-secluded areas will help.

Mayor Moreno has asked the city council, led by Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna, to appropriate P89.6 million for the project – enough for 896 barangays should there be that many to report zero cases in the next two months. It is an incentive for barangays to do something, after all these months when they merely stood by and left the work of fighting COVID-19 to the national government. Now, they might watch their areas and their residents more closely, quick to enforce the rules on face masks and social distancing.

It is a new plan, an untried experiment, and it comes with a monetary cost, but if it succeeds in reducing COVID cases in Manila, other cities and towns in the county might learn from it and adopt it in one form or another.

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