The Delta variant and government’s priorities

Published July 28, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Former Vice President Jejomar C. Binay

GOVERNANCE MATTERS

Former Vice President Jejomar Binay

We are finding out quite belatedly that the first case of the Delta variant was recorded as early as April, but confirmed only last week by the Department of Health (DOH).

Since April, the variant has spread to other parts of the country. The new cases are no longer confined to crowded economic centers. They can now be found in small cities and towns that do not have the medical facilities and resources to care for the infected, much more deal with a surge. Local officials have been appealing for more resources from the national government. They have asked for more vaccines to provide their population greater protection. Government has promised to divert vaccines to these areas, and this will surely impact on its target of vaccinating residents in the so-called NCR Plus 8 as part of its revised strategy of population protection. It has also reimposed quarantine restrictions, which does not augur well for small businesses who have yet to recover from the lockdowns and workers trying to make ends meet while living with the fear of being infected.

A presidential adviser has recommended that government consider further limiting the movements of the unvaccinated in order to avert a surge in Delta infections. He was quoted in media as saying, “If the coming fourth quarter will be a disaster because of the Delta variant, then the entire 2022 will face a severe challenge.” This is the same adviser who, along with other senior officials, expressed confidence that we will have a merry Christmas this year because of the vaccine roll-out.

While the proposal deserves credit for its boldness, it overlooks the reality that the pace of vaccination remains painfully slow. Government attributes this to vaccine scarcity, although many observers have pinned the root of our predicament to the lack of foresight in procuring vaccines.  Experts say that at the current pace of vaccination, the country will achieve herd immunity, which means 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated against the virus, by the end of 2022.

The entry of the Delta variant comes at a most inauspicious time. The rainy season is upon us, and with it the torrential rains and floods that lead to the displacement of residents who are forced to seek shelter in evacuation centers. Open air facilities do not provide protection from the elements. Evacuees are given temporary shelter in classrooms and other confined spaces where the potential for infection, especially of the more contagious Delta variant, is high.

The coming months will test the mettle and endurance of local officials who serve at the frontlines of disaster response. Their resources are already strained by the demands of fighting the pandemic and providing aid to constituents who have been economically displaced by the pandemic. They would now have to prepare for the economic impact of typhoons and the threat of a breakout in infections in their communities.

The national government, after each calamity, is quick to promise assistance to devastated localities. But the process of releasing the funds has always been slow and tedious. I have been told, for example, that most localities affected by the eruption of Taal volcano last year have yet to receive the assistance promised them by national government.

Yet we are confronted with the abomination that is the dolomite beach on Roxas Boulevard, funded at a cost of P651 million and implemented at a record pace. Rationalized as a venue to improve mental health during this pandemic, the beach has been washed out by monsoon rains. It is a symbol of the misplaced priorities of a government that insists it does not have the funds to provide “ayuda” for the economically-displaced yet spends millions on what is now a garbage dump.

The prognosis by the independent OCTA Research group that the Philippines may suffer the fate of Indonesia offers little comfort, but should be taken seriously by government. Several government officials have assured us that it can manage the situation. They also made a similar assurance last year, when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed officially. Look where we are now.

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