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Opinion

Lowering pandemic status to endemic

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

Director-General Karl Kendrick Chua of the National Economic and Development Authority proposed on Wednesday that the tracking and treating of COVID-19 cases follow new metrics and methods that do not scare people, strain resources or stifle productive activity.

The NEDA chief proposed policy adjustments to speed up economic recovery while slowing down the spread of the coronavirus and its variants that have infected at least 2,834,800 Filipinos since the pandemic hit the country in January 2020.

Addressing alumni of the Asian Institute of Management, Chua said: “The virus is not going to go away easily. We will have to live with it for a longer period of time, similar to, maybe, the flu. We have to change our metrics, focus on vaccination, on minimizing the severe and critical cases and also deaths.”

Similar hopes have been expressed by political and health authorities of other countries ravaged by COVID-19 to downshift to a more manageable endemic that does not require a response as demanding as that for a pandemic.

Chua, 43, said the key to adjusting to COVID-19 was to work out its becoming endemic as what Singapore and Portugal had done.

“The UK and USA have made pronouncements about the virus not going to go away, Thailand and South Korea have focused on living with the virus,” he added. “If we proceed with this idea of making the paradigm about less of the pandemic and more of the endemic part, then we are not alone.”

Chua noted that in countries where COVID-19 is considered endemic there have been greater flexibility, mobility and public transport. Schools have reopened, and travel and tourism have been stirring back to life.

“This is the direction that the Philippines should proceed to with haste if we want to recover faster,” he said.

Chua proposed changing the metrics being used by the government in monitoring and responding to COVID-19. Decisions are based at present on the cumulative number of cases, total deaths and the rate of vaccination, among other related data.

Chua proposed that monitoring be focused on total severe or critical cases hospitalized due to COVID-19, the case fatality ratio or the share of deaths to the number of infections and the vaccination rate.

Moving to this metric, he said, will reduce the need to raise alert levels that scare the people when cases go up. “It will facilitate a shift in the mindset of the people to live with the virus,” he added.

“If there are 20,000 cases but if 95 percent are mild, then we may be reacting too much,” he pointed out.

The metrics will also emphasize the positives of getting vaccinated, especially among those who have yet to get their jabs, he said. Research worldwide has shown that vaccines minimized deaths among those infected by the virus.

The government has ramped up mass vaccination to sectors aside from those categorized as a priority, such as frontline health workers and seniors. Vaccination of children has also started.

The stepped-up inoculation has been cited as one of the reasons why the number of new or severe infections, of patients ending up in hospitals or in death, has been going down.

Chua noted that from record-high levels of more than 26,000 new daily infections in mid-September, cases have fallen to fewer than 1,000 a day by mid-November.

“If we are moving to this endemic mindset of prioritizing or focusing only on the critical and severe (cases), then the idea here is to improve our health-care capacity,” he said.

He called for reopening more productive sectors, expanding public transport capacity, reopening face-to-face classes subject to minimum health standards, lifting of local restrictions to encourage vaccinated domestic tourists, relaxing requirements for returning Filipinos and foreign visitors, among other positive measures.

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So you don’t have to look up again the terms, we insert here for quick reference what the experts say:

• An infection is considered endemic in a population when it is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs.

• An epidemic is the rapid spread of a disease to a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time.

• A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread across a large region, e.g. multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of individuals. As of Dec. 05, 2021, 23:06 GMT, COVID-19 had infected 266,100,454 and killed 5,270,446 persons worldwide.

• An outbreak is a sudden rise in occurrences of a disease exceeding normal expectancy for the location or season. It may affect a small and localized group or impact thousands across a continent. If it is not quickly controlled, an outbreak can become an epidemic.

• Mary’s (not Jesus’) Immaculate Conception

Tomorrow, Dec. 8, Catholics will celebrate the annual Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many people mistake the day to be when Jesus was conceived by Mama Mary. It is the day when Mary was conceived without sin by her mother Saint Anne.

Conceived on Dec. 8, Mary was born on Sept. 8. On the other hand, Jesus was conceived on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:26). Conceived on March 25, Jesus was born on Dec. 25 (which is just 18 days away!).

These notes were sent to us by lawyer Romy B. Macalintal, who for 34 years has been lector-commentator in the Last Supper of Our Lord Parish, Las Piñas City.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]

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