Government and health experts are claiming that they have managed to stop the COVID-19 Delta variant, a more infectious strain which originated in India, from spreading further. For now, they say the strain has been contained. However, its presence here remains a cause for worry, especially when the implementation and observance of health protocols and lockdown restrictions, particularly border controls, have been attended by looseness and inconsistency.
In areas where infections are now surging, government says complacency in the enforcement of the most basic health protocols is one factor. There seems to be this belief that the considerable distance between their localities and the epicenter of the virus – which for a long time had been Metro Manila – would keep them safe from the virus. Today, that epicenter has moved South. Like Metro Manila and other provinces comprising NCR Plus a few months back, the Intensive Care Units of hospitals in these provinces are full. Hospital beds are full. The number of infections are rising steadily.
One health expert who advises the government task force was candid enough to declare that based on the presence of new variants and current trends, we will have to live with the pandemic, and its attendant restrictions, for at least another year.
Such a declaration would surely elicit groans from business leaders and economic managers who are struggling mightily to re-open businesses as quickly and as safely as possible. The economy has taken a severe beating from the pandemic, and this has been attributed by agencies like the World Bank to government’s over-reliance on lockdowns and its failure to improve mass testing, contact tracing, and vaccination.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would expand by 5.4 percent this year and seven percent next year. This is a lower estimate than government’s, which predicts GDP growth at between six to seven percent this year, and seven to nine percent for next year.
Like the World Bank, the IMF also prescribes more investments in programs designed to combat the pandemic, and more resources channeled to mitigate the difficulties faced by vulnerable families and displaced businesses.
“Such resources should aim to bolster the health-care system to accelerate vaccinations, strengthen capacity for testing, tracing, isolation and treatment, and support affected families and businesses,” the IMF said.
The presence of the Delta variant puts senior officials in a bind. They have previously committed to achieving “population protection,” or vaccinating 58 percent of the population, by the end of the year. They have declared confidently that Christmas would be merrier this year since millions of Filipinos would have been vaccinated by that time. The Delta variant, however, is proving to be resistant to all existing vaccines, according to medical experts, although the chief of the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) says otherwise. The World Health Organization (WHO) now calls it a global concern. Right now, this variant is undermining the gains of major countries in protecting their people and reopening more businesses. The coming months will prove to be unpredictable, not only for us, but for the rest of the world.
Still, there is a silver lining. We have been witnessing a surge of another kind. More and more Filipinos are asking to be vaccinated and this is surely a welcome development. But unless vaccine doses arrive as scheduled and government meets its population target while controlling the spread of the Delta variant, the vaccination program may be unsustainable given the recent problem of vaccine shortage.
Citizens have been patiently complying with minimum safety protocols and restrictions on their movement. Compliance is one reason why the number of cases in NCR Plus has gone down. But we have yet to see considerable improvement in mass testing, contact tracing, border controls, and efficiency in the implementation of the vaccination program. These are the responsibilities of government.
It is time that government steps up.