Now that vaccines against the COVID-19 virus will soon be available, some may think we can finally lower our guard and put the pandemic behind us. But it’s very possible that this mindset is what’s driving the recent uptake in new cases in the country. Just last Wednesday, for instance, more than 2,200 new cases were recorded, accounting for the largest single-day increase since November 8 last year.
Utmost caution and care are still necessary, especially with the rise of new variants of the virus around the world. The most infamous, named B117, was first identified in the United Kingdom (UK) last November. It is said to be up to 70% more contagious and poses a mortality risk 30% higher than the baseline. Health officials in the United States are now saying that this may become the dominant version of the virus in the United States by March.
This variant has already been found in 45 countries, and unfortunately, that number includes the Philippines. Early this January, a Filipino who flew in from the United Arab Emirates tested positive. Further analysis by the Philippine Genome Center later found that he was carrying the more virulent version.
The UK strain has also reached Samoki village in Bontoc, Mountain Province. A lockdown is currently in place there, and will most likely be extended, as 11 people have been diagnosed so far as infected. Our health officials are still figuring out how the variant showed up in the area, suggesting that testing capacity and epidemiological surveillance still needs to be ramped up outside of Metro Manila.
Given the rise of the new strains, there have been some questions about how effective the vaccines now available would be. Experts say that it’s very unlikely that the current vaccines will be ineffective against the new strains. But as recent article in The Atlantic suggested, if COVID-19 cases around the world remain high, that means the virus goes through trillions of generations each minute, making adaptations inevitable. And unless infection rates are brought down, the virus could very well evolve to circumvent current vaccines.
So in the face of all these developments, what should we do? It seems that the tried-and-true methods are still the best. Physical distancing is still important, with a minimum of 6 feet; masks should now be worn even indoors, if possible; and proper handwashing must be done frequently. One should also avoid crowds, be it indoors or out.
And what about those among us—such as myself—who have survived a bout with COVID-19? It turns out that we could still become carriers, with the virus staying in our noses or throats, to be passed on to those who have no immunity. And there is also a possibility that for some COVID-19 survivors, the immunity will only last for around five months.
Also, according to the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention, we must remember that it will take a few weeks for any vaccination to help our bodies build up enough antibodies to fight off an infection. In other words, those who have already been infected and have recovered should still be vaccinated, if only to prevent the possibility of being reinfected.
In short, by remaining vigilant and continuing our quarantine and health protocols, we also reduce the opportunity for the virus to mutate into something more virulent. Of course, for many, this is no easy sacrifice to make. Many have no choice but to venture outside their homes to make a living and provide for their loved ones. Our economy likewise needs all the activity it can get given that our GDP shrunk by 9.5 percent in 2020, as recently reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
We have now reached more than 500,000 COVID-19 cases in all, with around 30,000 active cases, and more than 10,000 dead from the disease. Unless we see the numbers go down, we cannot think we are out of the woods. Caution and common sense are critical if we want a decisive win against COVID-19.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years—nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and seven as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara