FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

All the major presidential campaign groups suspended activities in the face of sharply rising infections. The suspensions could last a couple of weeks or more and could have implications for the eventual outcomes of the elections.

The headquarters of the BBM-Sara campaign was first to announce a suspension of activities after several campaign workers tested positive for COVID-19. The others followed suit.

Leni Robredo had to self-isolate after exposure to an infected person. Ping Lacson is in quarantine. Manny Pacquiao and Isko Moreno have postponed all campaign activities until further notice to avoid spreader events.

Of course, the official campaign period doesn’t begin until after a month. But that is a mere bureaucratic stipulation. The race for president and vice president could be settled in the pre-campaign phase.

Every indication points to the race breaking wide open. The leading candidate, according to the voter preference surveys, has now cornered over half the votes. That defines the political dynamics from hereon.

A second tier of candidates – Robredo at 14 percent, Moreno at 12 percent and Pacquiao at 10 percent – has much ground to cover. These three are within margin-of-error distance from each other and appear to be fighting hard for second place.

For these second-tier candidates, every day of campaigning matters. They need to radically alter the basic contours of voter disposition. They have very little time left to remold the voter choices. Their task is made more challenging by the fact, as OCTA Research shows, that most voters have become more committed to their choices.

With the various campaign groups now basically in suspended animation, the effort to remold the preference map is at a standstill. The preference distribution is frozen and will continue to be until the current surge in infections abates.

As in most things in this world, the advantages and disadvantages are unequally distributed.

Even before the current surge in infections reached its startling pace, analysts were telling us that Bongbong Marcos, with the incredible lead he has mustered, needs only to bide his time. He only needs to continue his minimalist campaign, riding the broad current of support his candidacy catalyzed.

Because he has to do the least among the presidential candidates, the voluntary suspension of all campaign activities benefits him the most. It brings him closer, without having to do much, to the onset of the local campaign season where his more numerous multi-party allies will provide even more drivers to garnering the vote.

Conversely, the second-tier candidates are the most disadvantaged by the suspension of campaign activities. They need to engage constituencies night and day to reshape the electoral landscape. The Omicron-driven surge prevents them from doing this.

Life is, indeed, unfair.

Scorched earth

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated his government would probably not restore restrictions on movement in the face of what could be the worst surge in infections in his country. There might be method to his apparent madness.

I have read or listened to an increasing number of specialists advancing the hypothesis that the Omicron variant is a good thing actually. The faster-spreading variant could render the prior variants, including Delta, extinct by denying them the opportunity to replicate. It seems to be waging some sort of scorched earth strategy against the deadlier variants.

The way they speak of the good possibilities, it might seem like this is a variant we could have designed ourselves.

Omicron confines itself to the upper respiratory system, causing cold, cough and slight fever that do not require hospitalization, much less intubation. With these characteristics, the virus becomes more benign and does not threaten to collapse our health care system like Delta did.

In the US, for instance, infections last Monday approached nearly a million for a 24-hour period. That makes our 5,000-plus daily infections appear puny. Yet, apart from the White House reiterating the need for people to be vaccinated, little has been done about restricting movement. This was not the case in previous surges.

In the Netherlands and France, daily infection numbers are breaking previous records. But people are in the streets protesting against any attempt to re-impose lockdown regulations.

It is only in China, obsessed with its zero-Covid strategy that a few dozen infections lead to locking down medium-sized cities such as Xi’an. The superpower has tightened its quarantine regulations, including special economic zones like Hong Kong and Macau.

The rest of the world observes what happened in South Africa where the spike was sharp but brief. Because of the experience of this country, where the Omicron variant was first detected, many other countries take the same attitude as Johnson – which is to let Omicron rip until herd immunity is achieved.

I privilege, however, the opinion of the doctors at PGH. The country’s principal COVID referral health facility has been experiencing a rise in admissions very likely due to the local transmission of the Omicron variant. The doctors in that hospital prefer government take aggressive counter-measures to contain the surge.

We do not know how high infection rates here could go. The UP COVID Response team projects we could hit a high of between 200,000 to 400,000 infections per day. Such rates of infection could paralyze our own medical services in the same way they suspended the political campaign groups.

The death rate due to COVID-19, we know, is a function of the number of people infected. When the daily infection number becomes very high, the number of people killed by this disease rises proportionately.

It is better to be proactive.



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