Politics of COVID-19 pandemic

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The government of Israel dispatched recently two teams of health, medical and epidemiology experts one after the other to share “best practices” with their counterparts here in the Philippines. Israel is recognized as one of the world leaders in vaccinating its population to control the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The first team met with government representatives here and other top medical experts from June 20 to 25. They visited too some vaccination sites and cold storage facilities in Metro Manila. The second team inspected hospitals and held dialogues here with pandemic response officials from July 27 to 31 about local clinical guidelines for COVID-19 treatment, infection control protocols, hospital management, and other practices.

Nothing more was heard after these Israeli missions supposedly intended to help guide our government’s anti-COVID responses. Then came a public disclosure by “acting” Israeli ambassador in Manila Nir Balzam in a virtual news forum last Aug. 25 that certain Philippine government officials have raised to him about Israel’s assistance to ensure the COVID-safe holding of the May 2022 national elections here.

“We had our experience in having two elections during the pandemic one in the middle of the pandemic and one in the beginning. We are willing to share the information and I think the Philippine government and authorities are interested. We’re discussing it,” Balzam admitted. He hastened to clarify though: “I think there are few measures that the Philippines have to understand first before: What’s the vaccination status? The eligible voters? There are still some things that they have to do before but we’re collaborating on that.” Israel had general elections last March 23, the second one after last year’s pandemic outbreak.

Certainly, finding ways to reduce the risk of voters and election officials contracting COVID-19 are appreciated.

But methinks the priorities of our unnamed Philippine officials are anything but skewed.

A new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was sworn in June this year. After a vote of no confidence in the Knesset parliament of Israel, this ended the 12-year hold in power of Benjamin Netanyahu as his country’s Prime Minister in a political shake-up in the middle of their security and economic crises due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A month into office, Bennet read a powerful statement before the Israeli people. In televised address on July 23 after meeting with his “Corona Cabinet,” Bennet announced adjusting their three tracks to stem the latest surge of the pandemic in view of the Delta variant. At that time, Bennet noted, the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic “cost” Israel 6,430 deaths, approximately 200 days of lockdown, the loss of a school year and severe economic harm.

“It is in our hands to choose whether to act responsibly and have an open and free country, or to stick our head in the sand and – Heaven forbid – bring about endless lockdowns, again,” Bennet pointed out. “The easiest thing for me would be to close down the country; however, our compass is different at the moment: We want to have an open and safe country. We are conducting this campaign responsibly, with consideration and on the basis of facts and data,” Bennet told the Israeli people.

Bennet’s policy statement sounded somewhat similar with the anti-COVID responses of our Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). Convened regularly by President Rodrigo Duterte, the IATF points to science and data as basis of our own government’s anti-COVID campaign.

Acting on latest surge in Israel, Bennet’s “Corona Cabinet” shifted their “three layers of protection” in responding to the more transmissible Delta variants: the vaccines layer; the layer of protecting the older population; and, the layer of masks.

Bennet announced Israel’s “Corona Cabinet” decided to implement mandatory vaccination starting August 8. All Israelis who can get vaccinated, from every citizen aged 12 and older who has no health impediment to getting vaccinated, will get vaccinated. “Those who refuse vaccines will not be able to go to the cinema, the theater, the synagogue, the amusement park, the soccer game or any activity with over 100 people, indoors or out, unless they bring negative results from a coronavirus test, at their expense. Yes, they will fully bear the costs of the test,” Bennet declared.

“There is no reason why the taxpayers and people who have carried out their civic duty and have been vaccinated should finance tests for those who refuse to get vaccinated,” Bennet pointed out. The Prime Minister in particular pointed to, as “risks” to their own people, the still one million Israelis who refuse to get vaccinated. Of that total, he fumed, over 600,000 young people in Israel up to age 30 have yet to get vaccinated.

“The science is unequivocal: The vaccines work. They are effective and safe, almost completely for young people. For the older population, they are effective but not enough. Over one billion people around the world have already been vaccinated,” Bennet pointed out.

Bennet rightly pointed to many other countries in which there are not enough vaccines. For Israel, he cited, they spent billions to inoculate their population of 8.6 million (2020 census). The Philippines, on the other hand, has a 110 million population for the same year. So far, only 21.3 million Filipinos are vaccinated with at least one dose as of Aug. 25, or 19.8% of our total population.

Based from the IATF reports to President Duterte, the Philippines have also invested a lot to procure all kinds of vaccine brands out of funds allocated from tax and non-tax revenues, augmented by foreign borrowings.

We just had nearly 20,000 COVID cases as highest single-day record so far. The politics of COVID-19 pandemic would cost a lot for those with ambitions in 2022 elections here in our country.

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