A perfect storm

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2021 - 12:00am

It must be marvelous to be blissfully unaware of the horror and heartbreak caused by the COVID pandemic.

That lack of awareness, as if they live on another planet, is the only reason I can think of for that large crowd to gather for a swim at the Gubat sa Ciudad resort in Caloocan City for an old normal celebration of Mother’s Day last Sunday.

The entrance fee to the water park, according to several reports, is P250 per head. With the number of guests estimated at 300, that’s P75,000 for one day.

The amount won’t reverse the devastation from the COVID tsunami that has hit the tourism industry – unless the resort has been accepting guests for some time now, even after the National Capital Region was reverted to enhanced community quarantine amid a killer surge fueled by more infectious COVID variants. The NCR Plus has since been eased to modified ECQ, but gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited.

With video and photos of the frolicking in the pool going viral, the Caloocan City government has padlocked the resort. Mayor Oscar Malapitan said its business permit would be permanently revoked.

The mayor cannot afford to be soft on a potential super spreader event in his city, which took place on the same day that the Department of the Interior and Local Government threatened to impose sanctions on local executives who fail to enforce COVID health protocols. The DILG has announced that Malapitan would be spared. Instead the barangay captain in the area would be the one to face sanctions including suspension for dereliction of duty.

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As for the resort owner, you wonder what possible explanation might be proffered to evade the potential criminal charges to be filed for endangering public health. The guests wanted to swim and treat mothers to a picnic, and who was the owner to say no?

Indeed, those scenes of blatant disregard of the risks of COVID infection make you wonder: what were the guests thinking? And how prevalent is their attitude in the NCR Plus?

Some of the guests interviewed on TV said they didn’t feel they were risking infection, and that they simply wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day with their families.

Three guests were so incensed over being driven out of the resort by the city government that they beat up TV5 cameraman Arnel Tugade who was filming the shutdown of Gubat sa Ciudad. Brothers Dennis and Daniel Cawigan have been arrested; the third suspect escaped. The brothers must help authorities trace at least some of the guests for monitoring of possible infection.

The resort has no complete list of its guests. But there must be surveillance camera footage showing the license plates of the vehicles used by the guests, many of whom (according to Malapitan) were from outside Caloocan. Most could be from the neighboring province of Bulacan.

Worried Department of Health officials have urged all the guests and resort employees to undergo 14-day quarantine to monitor COVID symptoms. But with the guests’ dismissive attitude toward infection risks, and the difficulty of self-isolation for 14 days especially for daily wage earners, the call of the DOH would likely go unheeded. Until COVID symptoms begin manifesting and entire households end up infected. These variants are more virulent so some of those infected, heaven forbid, may not survive.

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Infectious disease expert Dr. Anna Ong Lim, a member of the DOH’s Technical Advisory Group, told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Monday that the COVID virus is not transmitted through water, especially pool water that is treated with chlorine.

But the virus is still transmitted through droplets. And, as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has acknowledged in a revised guideline on May 9, the virus is airborne.

This means, according to Doctor Lim, that those swimmers could still get infected because they weren’t wearing masks and were in close physical contact with other people.

The scorching summer heat must be intensifying COVID cabin fever. Last week the Coast Guard also had to drive away people including children who were swimming off the Baseco compound in Manila’s Port Area.

The case of Gubat sa Ciudad is highlighting the weakness of the country’s contact tracing capability.

It has also highlighted the weakness of the barangay system. The barangay is the smallest unit of governance. In this pandemic, barangay personnel should be the enforcer at the grassroots of COVID health protocols.

All the vehicles used by the guests last Sunday at the Gubat sa Ciudad could not have escaped the attention of barangay personnel in that area – unless they were deliberately looking the other way, or were themselves celebrating Mother’s Day in the swimming pool.

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Yesterday we had a perfect storm of bad news. Instead of gradual recovery, the economy continued to contract, with gross domestic product shrinking by a worse-than-projected 4.2 percent in the first quarter.

Economic reopening is threatened by the report that the Indian COVID variant is now in the Philippines, detected in two overseas Filipino workers who returned last month from the Middle East. The two are apart from the 12 Filipino sailors who tested positive for COVID after a port stop in India, and whose ship is anchored off Cavite. We don’t know yet if they have the Indian variant.

The World Health Organization yesterday classified the B1617 “triple mutant variant” from India, where people are dying of COVID by the thousands every day, as a global health threat that is more transmissible, and possibly deadlier and more resistant to some protections provided by existing vaccines.

A day after President Duterte ordered the arrest of people who don’t observe mask wearing protocols, several vendors in Manila who ignored the warning were interviewed by journalists. The vendors laughed off the warning and said masks made breathing difficult.

Over a year into the pandemic, it still hasn’t sunk in that if you catch COVID, you might never breathe again.

This attitude is the worst component of our perfect storm. With such a mindset, we will never be rid of this plague, or climb out of our economic sinkhole.

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