Soon freedom day
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 1, 2020 - 12:00am

As we observe this year our Philippine Independence Day in the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (C19) pandemic, it has become more meaningful for all of us to realize the value of freedom. For almost three months already of lockdown – not just us Filipinos – many of the people across the globe have, in fact, personally experienced being virtually imprisoned by the C19 contagion right inside our homes and houses. 

Faced with the clear and present danger of being infected by this deadly flu-like virus, we have reluctantly agreed to stay at home while the lockdowns are in place to keep us all safe. For many countries like the Philippines that have imposed lockdowns following the outbreak of the C19 pandemic early this year, we are now seeing gradual shift to what is called a “new normal” way of living. 

This is to keep us all alive until a vaccine is developed to at least ward off, if not fight the highly contagious and deadly C19 virus.

In a public address at Malacañang last Thursday night, President Rodrigo Duterte justified the lockdowns in which the Philippines is bruited about having one of the most stringent quarantines imposed in this part of the world. So far, we have had lockdowns extended four times already since it was imposed starting March 15. 

President Duterte first imposed the one-month long enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) all over the Luzon provinces, including the country’s national capital region (NCR). It was during this ECQ period where the government started the restrictions on the movement and transport of people to slow down the local transmission of the C19 infection. The contagion is largely traced to direct or close contact between people through the virus droplets. 

“And that is why the State has every right to control your movement if you pass on a contagion to the population…That is the reason of the essence of the police power of the State, to come up with measures to protect public interest, public health, public safety,” the Chief Executive pointed out.

 Observing the 14-day quarantine period of C19 cases, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) conduct a  regular review and assessment of C19 infection cases and has been imposing area lockdown in varying degrees. The idea is to enable the government buy time to isolate the infected ones while building up the capacity of our country’s health care system. But the number of cases of C19 infections and deaths continue to rise.

As unanimously recommended by the Mayors of the 16 Metro Manila cities and the municipality of Pateros that comprise NCR, the IATF endorsed their latest recommendation to President Duterte to downgrade the NCR and other areas previously classified as medium ECQ – or “transitioning high risk areas” – to a general community quarantine (GCQ) effective starting today. This means these areas are now deemed “low risk” to possible resurgence of the C19 cases for as long as “minimum health standards” are implemented by their respective local government units (LGUs). 

Last week, pharmaceutical company executives have announced one or several C19 vaccines could begin rolling out before 2021. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), which organised a virtual presser held in Geneva last Thursday, highlighted the “daunting” challenges facing the industry in the push for a vaccine. They estimated as much as 15 billion doses would be needed to halt this pandemic once the anti-C19 vaccine is produced. 

This was apparently the basis of the optimistic projection echoed by President Duterte who noted the “feverish” efforts by big pharma companies around the world to produce the first ever anti-C19 vaccine. During the IATF meeting at Malacañang later that night, President Duterte disclosed China’s claim to probably come up with the first anti-C19 vaccine ready for human trial. “September I think China will be able to distribute if I’m not mistaken. And the other countries are catching up. Everybody is at it so they are really trying their very best,” the Chief Executive announced.

The issue of vaccine was the center of our weekly news forum Kapihan sa Manila Bay that we resumed under a new platform called “virtual presser” last Wednesday. We had as guests namely, DOH undersecretary Dr. Ma. Rosario S.Vergeire; Dr. Troy Gepte, public epidemiologist and chairman of the New Era University College of Medicine, department of community medicine; Dr. Angelina Tan who is also the Congresswoman of Quezon Province and chairs the House committee on health; and, Dr. Lourdes Bravo, head of the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Study Group.

Dr. Bravo said her long experience in the vaccination field has shown that it takes years for a new vaccine to be licensed for general use. However, she conceded experimental vaccines shown to be safe for humans even at 50% efficacy level to fight off a virus could likely win approval for emergency use in the face of the C19 pandemic.

 Over 100 laboratories around the world are reportedly scrambling to come up with a vaccine, including 10 that have reportedly made it to the clinical trial stage. One of which that the Philippines is particularly waiting for, according to Vergeire, is Japan’s Avigan vaccine.

President Duterte himself reminded all of us: “Remember that the nation is still – the entire nation is still under quarantine. Let us move to the so-called “new normal” as we… Let’s see what develops ahead. If there is one by tomorrow, I will be the first to announce.” 

As we celebrate the 122nd Philippine Independence Day on June 12, it is fitting to savor our freedom and democracy passed on to us by our great heroes and forefathers who paid for it with their dear lives. Health undersecretary Vergeire calls it as “world war C” in describing our modern day global battle with the C19 infection. 

Let us all do our own share in the government’s battlecry let us defeat COVID-19 and heal as one. By the grace of God, we all shall enjoy soon freedom day from lockdowns.

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