Flattened
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - September 8, 2020 - 12:00am

The curve has flattened. This is the good news reported by the UP-based Octa group, a band of experts that has been closely monitoring the pandemic locally.

What “flattening the curve” means technically is that we have brought the rate of infection (R-naught) to 1 or less beginning September. One infected person is statistically expected to infect one other person – or less.

This does not mean the Covid-19 health crisis is over. It simply means the number of new infections is not expected to rise exponentially.

The infections are far from contained. Outbreaks could happen anytime or anywhere. At the moment, for instance, we are seeing a disturbing rise in infections in Bacolod and Iloilo.

We could still see that dreaded “second wave” of infections. But if that happens, it will entirely be due to our own recklessness. The present level of vigilance must continue to be maintained.

On the upside, the “flattening of the curve” could mean we have broken the momentum of this pandemic – at least in our country. With about 110 molecular laboratories in operation, our health establishment is able to do 40,000 tests daily. With better contact tracing at the community level, we are able to detect asymptomatic carriers and isolate them.

To be sure, we have flattened the curve at a rather high level. The pandemic might have plateaued, but it is at a high altitude. Present trends indicate we will have between 2,000 to 3,000 new infections every day for the next weeks.

That is a level we should not be happy about. If we are able to bring down new cases to less than 1,000 per day, this will assure us we are on the other side of this crisis.

If our public health effort maintains the relentlessness demonstrated over the past few weeks, there should be more good news down the road. At the moment, our hospital bed capacity is adequate. Better understanding of the virus enabled better medical care for the infected. The number of recoveries should impress.

We have a lower death rate compared to other countries. But, unfortunately, the virus will still claim more lives. The battle still rages. But the virus no longer enjoys the advantage it once had.

In the best scenario, an effective vaccine will be widely available late next year. We should not wait for that. We have to fight the public health battle into the coming months.

The system for contact tracing still needs a lot of improvement. Finally, we have recruited the power of digital technologies to our public health effort. We now have to convince our people to use the new phone-based apps to assist in contact tracing.

At this stage of the game, complacency will be the worst enemy.

Reclamation

We are on the verge of achieving an unparalleled oddity: soon our Navy headquarters will be inaccessible to its own ships.

Two large reclamation projects will cut off the Navy headquarters from the sea. When the Navy complained, the developers allowed a 120-meter wide channel through the areas to be reclaimed. But the channel is Z-shaped and will not allow the Navy’s ships to maneuver through to their headquarters.

When the reclamation projects are completed, our Navy headquarters will be rendered effectively inland. At some point, our Navy might have to plan to relocate their headquarters so that they could have full access to the sea.

Two reclamation projects proximate to the Navy headquarters have won approval to proceed. The consortia backing both projects include large Chinese engineering firms – including companies that have been blacklisted elsewhere.

The two projects are: the “City of Pearl” undertaken by UAA Kinmeng and the Waterfront to be built with the participation of CCCC First Highway Engineering. Both Chinese firms are state-owned and participated in Beijing’s South China Sea reclamation projects.

The Waterfront project involves the construction of two islands right in front of the Philippine Navy headquarters. Over the Navy’s objections, the project was awarded a joint venture agreement in 2017 and now appears ready to commence work.

In 2018, Waterfront formed a consortium for the project with CCCC First Highway Engineering and the China Habour Engineering. To placate the Navy, the project proponents agreed to a “compromise”: the ultimately unusable, zigzagging channel leading to the Navy headquarters.

Across from the Waterfront project are two larger projects: the 407-hectare City of Pearl reclamation project and the 40-hectare Baseco project. The two man-made islands will straddle the sealanes leading to Manila’s ports.

Nearly all the Chinese companies involved in these large-scale reclamation projects are included in the blacklist put out by the US against companies involved in the converting rocks into military bases in the South China Sea.

A policy position appears to have been reached by government last week to basically ignore the US sanctions list. This was shortly after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stated the sanctioned Chinese firms would not be allowed to operate in the country. The Palace immediately reversed Locsin’s position.

All in all, according to Palace spokesman Harry Roque, 23 reclamation projects involving Chinese engineering firms have been given notice to proceed. These projects include the expansion of the Sangley point facility and the “new city” developments along the shorelines of Bacoor, Paranaque and Pasay.

In a few years, Manila Bay will be much smaller. The world-famous sunset over Manila Bay may not even be available to its original residents.

Apparently, the commercial potential of building new islands along the Bay’s shoreline justifies the costs.

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