As of the writing of this column, the Department of Health (DOH) reported more than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 infections, with a positivity rate of 31.7 percent (which apparently is a record high for the country). These numbers push up the active cases to nearly 40,000, which is the highest they’ve been since early November of last year. While roughly 33,800 of these cases have been categorized as mild, the utilization rates of ICU beds, isolation facilities, wards, and ventilators are climbing — hopefully not to dangerous levels.
The more alarming figure from the DOH is that up to 85 percent of the patients with severe COVID-19 cases in intensive care units across Metro Manila were unvaccinated. This is unconscionable, when the vaccine supply nationwide is adequate and that local government units (LGUs) have been ramping up their vaccination efforts, including booster shots. Some cities in the Metro have even revised their guidelines to allow non-residents to walk-in and get themselves inoculated.
Hence, efforts from all sectors of society should echo and amplify the clarion call for people to get themselves vaccinated (and boosted) as soon as they can. Parents of minors should take steps to have their children vaccinated already, particularly those aged 12 to 17. And given that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already approved the use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for minors aged five to 11, inoculations for this age group should be fast-tracked and rolled out soon.
The cause of the sudden rise in cases is still unclear. But the DOH is already working on the assumption that the spike was driven by the reportedly more transmissible Omicron variant, saying that the trend in other countries where cases doubled in two days has already been observed in the Philippines. Some also suggest that the increased mobility of people during the holidays was also a contributing factor to the current surge.
This is why on top of the nationwide vaccination drive, it is critical that every citizen continues to observe social distancing and minimum health and safety protocols, including mask wearing. Compliance with the government’s directive to limit the movement of the unvaccinated is key to preventing another wave of cases from inundating our health system. And this is particularly important given that a recent study by the University of Copenhagen, Statistics Denmark and States Serum Institute (SSI) found that the Omicron variant is 2.7 to 3.7 times more infectious than Delta among the vaccinated. In short, the new variant is better able to circumvent a person’s immunity than previous variants.
Inevitably, that means people will have to postpone whatever plans they had for the beginning of 2022. Indeed, as World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu remarked, “an event canceled is better than a life canceled.”
This isn’t to downplay however the real cost fresh restrictions will exact on business establishments, entrepreneurs, and workers — who are all still dealing with the effects of being in lockdown for nearly two years. But such situation characterized by disruption to people’s livelihood is exactly why we, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, made sure that ample funds were set aside this year for social amelioration programs, emergency employment, and other social safety nets. We even included funding under the Department of Labor and Employment for free COVID-19 testing of job applicants to help defray the cost of finding employment.
It goes without saying that the pandemic is the greatest humanitarian crisis that we as a society have faced in recent history. We all have a shared responsibility to do all that we can to prevent the spread of the virus.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years. 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