Filipino health workers: The best worldwide

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

Last Thursday at ANC’s Headstart with Karen Davila, I had the opportunity to give a rundown on the situation in the United States and how Filipino-Americans are faring amid the COVID-19 pandemic. No doubt the Omicron variant is rampaging across the globe with the US registering one of the highest rates of infection, averaging more than 750,000 cases a day in the past week alone.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the medical adviser to President Biden, most Americans will likely get infected by Omicron, saying the variant will find “just about everybody.”

Unfortunately for a first world country like the US, only 62 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, with only 23 percent having received boosters according to CDC data. About 65 million have yet to be vaccinated – a problem the US faces as hospitals are completely overwhelmed with unvaccinated and immunocompromised individuals manifesting serious illness.

It’s very clear that those who have been fully vaccinated and received booster shots have better protection, and even if they contract the Omicron, they will most likely dodge getting severely ill. We’re very glad that – judging from the reports that our consulates from Guam all the way to New York have received – most Filipinos in the US have been vaccinated and have received booster shots.

There is concern though regarding the risk that Filipino and Filipino-American nurses and health care workers are facing because the number of days for isolating people who tested positive for COVID-19 has been reduced to five, the same for those who have also been in contact with those who tested positive. At the same time, asymptomatic health care workers who are fully vaccinated or have received a booster can continue to work, according to the new guidelines which are still being debated by experts however.

While there is continued discussion about the Omicron variant, there are indications that the wave is peaking in some states. And although the Delta variant remains dominant globally, experts believe Omicron could become the most prevalent variant within the first quarter of 2022.

Researchers believe that the transmissibility of Omicron could hasten the transition of COVID-19 from pandemic to endemic, with those who have survived emerging with a degree of “natural immunity” that would provide protection against the next variant of concern. The good news is that once the situation transitions into endemic, COVID-19 can be managed similar to the flu. Spain is the first country to declare that the COVID-19 pandemic should now be considered as endemic. Spain has a 90 percent vaccination rate, and its death rate has dropped to one percent.

During the interview with Karen, I was asked to give my assessment on our current relationship with the United States. I told Karen – we are definitely in a very good place now as far as our relationship with the US is concerned. There is clear mutual trust and respect, which is extremely important for both countries.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also said it in no uncertain terms when he visited the Philippines last July that the US will not take its friends and allies for granted. This is a message that bodes well for our relationship with the US – we should not take them for granted, neither should they take us for granted. This is how things should be moving forward.

One area that the US is giving special attention to is climate change, with the Philippines among the most vulnerable when it comes to natural disasters, seen in the recent onslaught of Typhoon Odette whose damage to agriculture has risen to over P13 billion. The US government through USAID has allocated over $20 million in humanitarian assistance to help communities rebuild. The US is also prepared to help ensure our clean energy goals through small modular reactors that can help lessen our heavy dependence on fossil fuels, especially coal.

On the upcoming May elections, the US is obviously interested and is keenly watching. There are over 4.5 million Filipino-Americans living in the US, and American legislators are well aware of the special ties between our two countries. What is important to our friends and allies is for the elections to be clean and credible.

US government officials made it very clear to us that they have no problem dealing with any of the major presidential candidates, being well aware of their backgrounds. They are fully prepared to work with any leader who has been duly elected by the Filipino people.

I have always believed that a great anchor in the special friendship between the Philippines and the United States is our personal, deep people-to-people ties. Many Americans have a strong affiliation towards the Philippines, and many of my friends would like to visit again. Our friend, Moderna’s vice president Patrick Bergstedt, visited Palawan with his family years ago. “I really loved the Philippines and the people. I’m eager to go back,” he said. These are the same comments I hear from many of my American friends.

During my discussions with US officials and legislators, the talk would inevitably turn to Filipino nurses and health care workers who are very much appreciated because they are dedicated, hardworking and very competent – which is why they are most sought after and considered among the best in the world.

If so many Americans and other nationalities have come to appreciate the Philippines and its people so much, certainly we should not wish our country ill and instead be grateful for our blessings. No matter what our political persuasion is, we should be proud of our country.

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