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Opinion

The subvariant scare

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

The government, particularly the Department of Health, has been caught red in the face in scaring people out of their wits over the BA.2.12 Omicron COVID19 subvariant.

The government’s scare tactic on the Omicron subvariant has been a flop, thank goodness!

If it keeps scaring people and then getting embarrassed later, it might go the way of the shepherd boy that cried wolf too often.

A Finnish woman was found to have carried the Omicron subvariant into the country, but she didn’t cause an epidemic as the DOH said it would.

The subvariant, the DOH had said, would be much more contagious than its “mother” Omicron variant.

BA.2.12 has turned out to be much tamer, apparently because most Filipinos have received a full dose of one of the vaccines and a booster shot to boot.

The Finnish woman came to the Philippines to conduct a seminar at a university in Quezon City and then went to Baguio City for another seminar.

She was not required to go on quarantine after she presented papers that she was fully vaccinated and only showed mild symptoms, like a headache and a sore throat, although she had hypertension as her comorbidity.

“The patient returned to her home country on April 21, 2022,” said Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong, referring to the woman.

She arrived in the country on April 2, according to the DOH.

None of the 44 people who were reported to have close contact with her have tested positive. Thirty of them were fully vaccinated; the others were not.

From April 2, when she arrived in the country, to April 21, when she left, that Finnish woman could have spread the virus exponentially. But there are no reports of a sharp rise in COVID cases in the country from that period.

The Omicron variant, which originated in South Africa, came to Metro Manila in January and February. It spread like wildfire but didn’t wreak as much havoc as Alpha and Delta.

The Alpha and Delta variants filled up hospitals, exhausting the capacity of the country’s medical system and caused so many deaths.

Some of my friends – among them former Manila mayor and senator Alfredo Lim, retired police generals Narciso Cabrera, Vicente Vinarao and Ernesto Diokno, retired Coast Guard chief Reuben Lista and Toto Arellano – succumbed to the Alpha and Delta variants.

My whole household was infected with the Delta variant and my wife, Josephine, recovered by the skin of her teeth. My office staff members, Richard Ramos and Alin Ferrer, also nearly succumbed to Delta.

I got the Delta variant in November and the Omicron variant in January.

I experienced normal colds and coughing, similar to allergic rhinitis that I suffer from regularly, when I got infected with Omicron. The symptoms were gone in three days.

Omicron patients, who by then had been vaccinated and given booster shots, just stayed home like those in South Africa.

And what does that report about a tamed BA.2.12 reaching the country mean?

It means that those who’ve had a full dose of vaccination and a booster shot and still got infected with Delta and Omicron have become immune to COVID-19.

Vaccinated Filipinos who survived the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants may have acquired natural immunity.

An OCTA researcher, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, has said Omicron might turn out to be a “blessing” as people would become immune to COVID-19. The variant could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, he said.

Austriaco said COVID-19 might become endemic and, unless one has health issues, he will only experience symptoms much like the regular flu.

China may want to take a leaf from the Philippines or, say, Indonesia by allowing its citizens who have had a full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and a booster shot to go out.

Some experts say China’s target of “zero” rate might have made the COVID-19 dormant for a while, but it came out stronger because that country had not allowed the people to get exposed to the virus.

Fully vaccinated Filipinos have built natural defenses against the virus, and they’ve become even more immune after contracting the mild Omicron variant.

But even if we have acquired herd immunity, we must take precautions by wearing masks and observing social distancing in public.

*       *      *

The contractor, as well as officials of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) that hired the private company that constructed the Clarin Bridge, should be made accountable for the collapse of the bridge into the Loboc River in Bohol on April 27.

Four persons drowned while 24 others were injured in the disaster which could have been prevented had the bridge been built without the usual “SOP.”

SOP, short for standard operating procedure, in the parlance of corrupt government personnel means “for the boys” or bribes.

When a government agency has its hands full and cannot undertake a project on its own, it hires a contractor to do the work.

The contractors usually pay off politicians, who sponsored the projects – as well as officials of the concerned government agency – anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of the total project cost. That’s SOP, which has long been a practice.

The contractor uses substandard materials for the project because a big chunk of the project cost has gone to the pockets of corrupt politicians and officials of the concerned office.

SOP has resulted in our pockmarked highways a few months after completion; rifles, ammunition, bombs turning out to be duds in the battlefield; boots and backpacks for soldiers getting worn out after one use or two and, in a worse case, a bridge collapsing in Bohol.

The national highway in Palawan, which was done by a Korean road construction company and its crew, has withstood the elements many years after it was finished.

Why? Apparently because there was no SOP.

COVID-19

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