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Round two for COVID?

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The world is reeling from an even more worrisome round two of the COVID pandemic.

Of particular concern is the British variant. It doesn’t cause a more severe illness, but it spreads much more easily and overwhelms the health system, resulting in more people dying because they don’t get the hospital care they need. The US CDC warned of “a new phase of exponential growth.”

Last Monday, our DOH reported 2,163 new cases, the highest single-day tally in more than two months (or since Nov. 8 last year), according to Edson Guido of the ABS-CBN News Analytics team.  This brings the total to 502,736 cases, with 26,839 active. More than 2,000 cases were reported for the third time in the last four days.

But let us not blame the mutating viruses. Viruses naturally look for a host. It’s human habits that make the pandemic, Edson posted on Twitter.

“We’re in a race against time” because the virus “may stumble upon a mutation” that makes it more dangerous, said Dr. Pardis Sabeti, an evolutionary biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Experts also say governments must do more genetic sequencing to determine what variants are prevalent in their communities. They warn that governments can miss the narrow window to mount a rapid response and limit the spread. Containment measures come too late in the wait for more substantial evidence – and the virus races ahead.

That reminds me of our DOH’s insistence the British variety was not yet in the country, only to get its first official case days later. They were blissfully unaware because they have not given importance to genomic sequencing that could be done by UP scientists.

The good news is, available vaccines seem to work on the variants identified, so far. The bad news is, very few are being vaccinated worldwide. In our case, no Filipinos, other than the PSG troopers, have been vaccinated yet.

Our officials assure us there will be sufficient funds set aside by government to buy vaccines. The proposed 2021 government budget has provisions for that. Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research, however, is not so sure.

“The 2021 budget would set aside P72.5 billion ($1.5 billion) for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, which the government targets to administer to the general population by the second quarter of 2021. Of this amount, P2.5 billion ($520 million) are lodged under the Department of Health, while P70 billion ($1.4 billion) is under unprogrammed appropriations, dependent upon the availability of government revenues in 2021.”

Says Fitch: “We see some risks from further COVID-19 outbreaks in 2021, which could expose the limited funding allocation towards the pandemic response and lead to a wider budget deficit. The budget allocated P221 billion towards its pandemic response, around 4.9 percent of the total budget and only 1.1 percent of GDP.

“Given that the Philippines has experienced the second highest fatality rate in the South East Asia region, after Indonesia, and the discovery of more contagious strains in the UK and South Africa, the Philippines remains vulnerable to another surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We expect the Philippines to lag behind other Asia Pacific economies in securing vaccines for the population, which will mean risks remain elevated through 2021.”

The news site asia.nikkei.com reports: “According to the International Monetary Fund, the Philippines could suffer the worst growth decline in the world over the next five years, while the British medical journal The Lancet placed the Philippines at the bottom third of surveyed nations in terms of its management of the COVID.”

In the United States, the situation today remains grim. They are expected to hit 400,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the next few days.

“We remain in a very dark winter,” President Joe Biden told Americans last week. “The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better.”

According to the New York Times, Federal officials warned that the variant, first identified in Britain, is projected to become the dominant source of infection in the US by March.

Loyce Pace, who heads the non-profit Global Health Council and is a member of President Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board, said the same precautions scientists have been advising all along “still work and they still matter.”

“We still want people to be masking up,” she said on a webcast hosted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We still need people to limit congregating with people outside their household. We still need people to be washing their hands and really being vigilant about those public health practices, especially as these variants emerge.”

No one will protect your life from this virus as well as yourself. Simple as that.

UP Fight

All the while I thought Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was one of a few Duterte Cabinet members who can be depended upon to protect basic rights. His move to allow the police and the military to freely operate in UP campuses is disappointing. It is an assault on academic freedom.

I want to share this Facebook post I came across that observed the military can use more brain power and shoe leather to outwit the communists. In other words, that decades old agreement need not be revoked. The military can come in and perform their mission the way they did in the past.

“When I was a young reporter, the soldiers and police I know did this to conquer the ‘communist’ in UP: they enrolled in whatever masters ek-ek there; they court the UP people; built barbecue and turon stands; drove UP Ikot jeep; attended all forums etc; created their own teach-ins to expose the evils of communism.

“In short, they gave counter-insurgency the brains and long hours it deserved. In short, they wanted to prove they could outsmart the Left. Which, let’s face it, they achieved in those days.

“What the Duterte AFP has been doing and is doing now to ‘crush’ the insurgency is lazy behavior… (trabahong tamad) just to say that the 2022 deadline has been met. May the ghosts of the AFP’s brightest and most hardworking haunt you…”

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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