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Opinion

‘COVID politics’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The Omicron variant that was first discovered in South Africa spread like wildfire in many countries late last year. It has shown to be more transmissible than the Delta variant. Thus, the outbreak of Omicron variant spurred the latest wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic across the world.

The United Kingdom, France, Germany and other European Union (EU) states as well as the United States (US) and the Philippines re-imposed stringent measures. Some EU states even closed down anew their borders to break the transmissions of the Omicron variant to their respective populations.

Due to much faster community transmissions of the Omicron variant detected in the onset of the new year, COVID-19 cases spiked again in our country’s National Capital Region (NCR). Even fully dosed vaccinated people still got COVID-19 infection. After nearly two months of slowing down to a three-digit nationwide daily tally, it shot up to its newest high record of 35,004 COVID cases on Jan. 15. Close to 500 Omicron variant cases caused the breakthrough infections to the vaccinated, largely detected at the NCR.

The anti-COVID vaccines though made Omicron variant less fatal and less severe to most of the cases of breakthrough infection. As quickly as it broke out and pushed up COVID-19 cases in South Africa and in other Omicron-hit countries, the latest COVID-19 mutation was turning out to be less virulent where majority of population got fully vaccinated already.

One after the other, several countries stricken with Omicron surges started announcing last week of easing again their anti-COVID restrictions amid a downtrend in the wave of infections. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, cautioned government authorities that the threat of emerging new COVID-19 variant remains unpredictable.

The British government announced last Wednesday the restrictions reimposed in UK last month would be lifted. The next day, France announced it will begin a gradual lifting of COVID restrictions starting Feb. 2. Ireland followed UK’s lead and lifted over the weekend its anti-COVID curbs. Spain’s government is also pushing to begin treating COVID-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the implementation starting today of a “vaccine pass” to enter restaurants, cinemas, and other public venues to allow an easing of tighter rules all over France. Still recording though six-digit new daily cases, “health pass” that could be obtained with a recent negative COVID test was previously required in France. Castex claimed their new “vaccine pass” encouraged one million people in France to get anti-COVID jabs, adding to the 93% of French adults who had at least one dose. According to Castex, booster shots would be extended to children aged 12 to 17 also starting today all over France.

Citing data that showed infections had peaked already in UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson informed the British Parliament that the “extraordinary booster campaign” all over England indicated Omicron case rates were pushed down for several weeks now. Johnson noted more than 36 million booster jabs had been delivered all over the UK.

Starting this week, the British people will no longer have to wear face masks in any setting, or use a so-called “COVID pass” to enter venues such as nightclubs while work-from-home guidance was lifted immediately. Incidentally, the British Prime Minister himself got sick with COVID-19 in April 2020. He credited the Filipina nurses caring for him while in hospital.

Critics of Johnson claimed the announced relaxing of anti-COVID rules in UK was driven by the embattled British leader’s attempt to reverse the public outcry over his holding numerous parties at his official residence in No. 10 Downing Street in London. Even after he apologized that he and his staff broke COVID lockdown, opposition leaders in the British Parliament called for his resignation.

The “vaccine pass” in France and “COVID pass” in UK are quite similar to the “vaccine card” required in all public transports being implemented over the entire NCR. The Metro Manila region has been the “hot spot” of the foreign variants after COVID-19 pandemic breached our borders since January 2020.

Under the “No vaccination (No vaxx), no ride” regulation, which took effect starting last Monday, passengers without “vaccine cards” are barred from boarding public transports in Metro Manila. Not subject to arrest, unvaccinated passengers will be asked if they wish to go back home, or be given free anti-COVID jabs. “No vaxx, no entry” is being imposed in some malls and other private establishments.

The “No vaxx, no ride” regulation is limited for now at the NCR and with exemptions for “essential workers” who remain unvaccinated for one reason or another. Approved in local ordinances by the Metro Manila Mayors, the “No vaxx, no ride” regulation stays effective while NCR remains under Alert Level 3 until Jan. 31.

The survey done by the Social Weather Station last December showed vaccine hesitancy among adult Filipinos have significantly declined. On nationwide basis, it went down to eight percent from 18% in September, and 7% to 4% in Metro Manila.

Bleeding hearts and rhetorics from rabid anti-vaxxers, including some politicians, however, continue to denounce “No vaxx, no ride” as unconstitutional and discriminatory. Signed into law by President Duterte, certain lawmakers argued the Vaccination Program Act of 2021 did not make vaccine cards mandatory.

The world of politics is the same anywhere. The advent of the election season in our country, however, heightened more the politics here even while we are still reeling from the malingering pandemic. Even if the campaign period could officially commence only on Feb. 8 yet, our politicians running in this year’s national and local elections jumped ahead and taking populist rhetorics on COVID-related issues.

That’s typical of politics. Let’s call it COVID politics.

OMICRON VARIANT

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