Lessons to be Learned from Our Asian Neighbors
The Philippines cannot avoid the local transmission of the more infectious strain of Covid-19. The Delta variant has arrived on our shores but we can still minimize its spread. Containing it is the only way that we can preserve the economic gains we achieved in the second quarter of the year.
We have seen developments in our Southeast Asian neighbors, notably Indonesia, and they are teaching us lessons on how to avoid their recent pitfalls. Filipinos, especially our workers out there in the field and in their offices, should not lower their guard, not until the Philippines achieves herd immunity.
First and foremost, we must be ready for the Delta variant that first wreaked havoc in India. Our hospitals must now be equipped with more beds and respiratory equipment and supplies, like ventilators and oxygen tanks, in anticipation of a possible surge in infections.
The Delta virus has now become the dominant strain in the world, infecting the majority in the UK, the US and Spain, and now in the Southeast Asian nations of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The variant, per the assessment of the World Health Organization, will be the dominant strain in the next few months. It is now present in 96 countries and the WHO expects it to spread further.
Strict adherence to health protocols like wearing of face mask and face shield, especially in public transportation and popular wet markets, can prevent the speedy transmission of Covid-19 and the Delta variant. Local government units should also be aggressive in their contact tracing and quarantine efforts, as well as in virus testing.
The Indonesian experience has taught us valuable lessons. The daily Covid-19 cases in our southern Asian neighbor reached nearly 60,000 in mid-July after containing the rate to below 20,000 daily early this year. A super spreader event in mid-May has been blamed for the exponential rise in virus infections. Millions of Indonesians, in celebration of the end of the Ramadan fasting, trooped back to their hometowns and visited several tourism spots despite a state travel ban.
Indonesia’s daily cases appeared to have reached its peak after reporting 49,071 cases last Friday. The same, however, cannot be said of Malaysia and Thailand. Weak border controls and lax lockdown rules have resulted in a virus spike in these two nations. Malaysia and Thailand for a time were the envy of other Asian nations for successfully curbing the spread of the virus. But the Delta variant soon caught up with their complacent population. Malaysia recorded 15,573 daily cases last Friday to bring its total cases to 980,491, from just fewer than 9,000 cases year-on-year. Thailand registered 14,575 cases to increase its total to 467,707, from just 3,260 cases a year ago.
The Philippines is faring better this time than its Southeast Asian neighbors, with daily cases of 6,845 last Friday to bring the total cases to over 1.5 million. But the lower figures could be misleading. We are experiencing a mini-spike that could worsen if Filipinos become unmindful of their ways. All of us should continue practicing social distancing and avoid super spreader events such as what we’ve seen in India and Indonesia.
Increased vaccination will slow down the virus infection rate and shield more Filipinos from the more infectious Delta variant. But pending the arrival of more vaccine doses, local government units must continue with the implementation of the PDITR (Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate) strategies as well as localized lockdowns when needed.
I agree with our health experts, who stressed the need for “intense” contract tracing to restrict the virus spread and prevent a worse-case scenario. The Delta variant, whether we like or not, is already here. The Department of Health and independent researchers from the UP-Philippine Genome Center strongly suspect the start of community transmission of the more virulent Delta variant, as shown by rising infections in Metro Manila.
We may temporarily re-impose some restrictions to prevent the virus transmissions from known “hotspots,” but in no way should we resort to widespread lockdowns, which are unproductive. The virus spike can best be addressed by localized lockdowns. As I’ve written in this column before, we should not penalize our workers and those who have been religiously adhering to health protocols. They know the drill, and they have learned to live with the virus all this time.