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Opinion

Back to ECQ

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Since our government follows the Chinese playbook in dealing with COVID, let’s see how Beijing is confronting the spread of the Delta variant since an outbreak began on July 20, with a cluster of nine cleaners getting infected at the international airport in Nanjing.

News reports said that with 360 local transmissions reported as of Monday, China had imposed lockdowns in 20 cities and over a dozen provinces.

The difference from our version (apart from the fact that lockdowns are easier to enforce in a communist state) is that as in previous outbreaks, nucleic acid testing (like RT-PCR) of millions of residents is immediately conducted during the Chinese lockdowns, with close contacts of those testing positive isolated ASAP.

So the lockdown periods are tightly limited to protect the economy. Zhuzhou City in Hunan province, for example, is under hard lockdown for three days to test 1.2 million residents and carry out mass vaccination.

In flood-hit Zhengzhou City, where two cleaners at a COVID hospital caught the virus from patients from abroad, 30 cases have since been detected and 10 million residents ordered tested. The head of the city health commission was sacked. Wuhan, where COVID first emerged in late 2019, will test 11 million residents.

In the capital, Beijing has cut all rail, bus and air links with areas where cases have been reported, and allowed the entry only of essential travelers with negative COVID test.

*      *      *

In our case, we lock down, and hope that Delta will run out of new hosts. And then it’s a case of BNB: Bahala na si Batman.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry lamented last Monday that lockdowns aren’t the answer and pandemic response capacities must instead be built up.

Unlike China, which produces its own COVID vaccines, testing kits, treatments and surgical masks, we can only promise 24/7 vaccination – if the vaccines arrive. We can’t afford mass testing, and people are faking test results because of the steep cost of the RT-PCR test.

We might even see oxygen supply running out again, as in the COVID surge last March and April in Metro Manila. Last Monday, we were already reminded of this shortage, as people in Cebu province were seen buying oxygen tanks and waiting in long lines for hospital admission.

Dr. Jose de Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines (PHAP), says in several provinces, hospital accommodations for COVID critical care are again filling rapidly.

This is obviously a problem in areas with limited healthcare facilities. And the problem has worsened, De Grano said, because some small hospitals have been forced to downsize staff and reduce capacities due to the non-payment of their claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corp.

PhilHealth says it has paid the bulk of the estimated P28 billion claimed by the hospitals in 2020. De Grano told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Monday that PHAP members say this is not the case. But they are suffering in silence and instead downscaling operations, he says, because some hospital owners worry that if they complain, PhilHealth might sit even longer on the claims. Malacañang may have to step into this issue, to determine who is telling the truth and resolve the problem once and for all.

DOH Undersecretary and treatment czar Leopoldo Vega, who heads the One Hospital Command, reassured us on The Chiefs that healthcare capacities have been sufficiently scaled up and the country is better prepared to handle any Delta-driven surge.

He couldn’t say if there was a significant difference in capacities from last summer’s Alpha/Beta-driven surge.

*      *      *

As for the general public, we worry about a surge including Delta-driven breakthrough infections, so people are prepared to cooperate as the National Capital Region is reverted to the strictest enhanced community quarantine for two weeks beginning this Friday. The OCTA Research group made a case for this “hard lockdown” to serve as a “circuit breaker” in containing Delta in the NCR.

Apart from infection, people worry about lost livelihoods and the availability of supplies during ECQ. The government has promised ayuda during the lockdown; the funding source is still unclear.

As for supplies, there was an unusually large crowd last Monday at two supermarkets that I visit regularly. But I haven’t seen the kind of panic buying similar to the start of the pandemic last year, as the government has repeatedly reassured everyone that there will be no disruptions in the production and supply of food and other essential commodities. There must be some people with piles of toilet paper still left over from last year’s initial burst of panic buying.

*      *      *

A key difference in this lockdown is that limited public transportation will continue even during ECQ, and more essential services will be allowed to continue operations.

Another key difference is that there are people who are now vaccinated, some with the full two doses. This is unlike during the surge last summer, when vaccination was just starting even as the more infectious Alpha and Beta variants from the UK and South Africa, respectively, were bringing illness and swift death.

Unfortunately, the Delta variant, first detected in India, is so much more contagious than Alpha and Beta that it can jump from one person to the next in a matter of seconds, according to the Department of Health (DOH).

Also, Delta is such a powerful mutant that it is responsible for an increasing number of breakthrough infections even among the fully vaccinated in several countries.

The virulence of Delta has prompted the leaders in the global vaccination drive, Israel and the UK, to begin giving booster shots to the most immuno-compromised people.

With only a fraction of our population having received their first COVID shot, boosters are a luxury beyond our reach at this point.

The DOH and Department of the Interior and Local Government have said walk-ins will be strictly prohibited (except for seniors) to prevent long lines at vaccination sites. Let’s see if they can get certain LGUs particularly the Manila city government to comply with this rule.

We don’t have the pandemic response resources of China. With all the uncertainty over Delta and the risk of infection and death, all we can do is continue adhering to the health safety protocols, vaccinated or not. After over a year, we already know the drill: wear face mask and shield, observe physical distancing, wash or disinfect hands regularly. Get tested ASAP and self-isolate if you suspect COVID infection.

Are we ready for Delta? Since the decision has been made to go into ECQ, we should all do our part in making it worth the pain.

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