EDITORIAL - After the lockdowns

The Philippine Star

Three years after COVID-19 raged across the country and the world, all mobility restrictions have been lifted in the Philippines and people are traveling again. Social distancing is a distant memory. Businesses are recovering and mass gatherings are back.

Many Filipinos, however, still prefer to keep their masks on in public places. Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene have become ingrained. Throughout the difficult years of the pandemic, the inadequacies of the public health system – already well-known even before COVID struck – became even more glaring. Three years since the start of the lockdowns, have the inadequacies been addressed?

On March 17, 2020, then president Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 929, placing the entire country under a state of calamity for an initial six months as the government grappled with an invisible threat that was rapidly infecting and killing people all over the planet.

March 17 was also when a Luzon-wide strict COVID “community quarantine,” announced by Duterte the previous day, took effect. The order was an expansion of Proclamation 922 on March 8, declaring a state of public health emergency as COVID cases rose to 24 from the first case recorded on Jan. 30, 2020.

The lockdowns plunged the country into its worst post-war recession and buried

Filipinos in debt that as of the end of January this year had ballooned to a whopping P13.7 trillion. Three years later, the Department of Health has recorded over 4 million COVID cases nationwide, with 66,245 deaths. As of yesterday, the COVID-19 dashboard of the DOH showed that there were still 9,231 active COVID cases nationwide – 1,662 of them mild, 179 severe and 64 critical.

Health experts believe the cases are higher, since most people are using self-administered antigen home-testing kits that have become readily available, and are no longer reporting positive results unless they require hospitalization. This time, however, most of the people have been vaccinated and boosted or have attained natural immunity from a previous COVID infection. Despite the prevalence of highly infectious and immune-evasive mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 subvariant Omicron, the government has seen no need to restore COVID restrictions or even masking requirements in open spaces.

President Marcos expressed confidence yesterday that the country has hurdled the pandemic. Even as the threat dissipates, however, more investments are needed in public health facilities as well as in medical research and development. The country must hold on to its health professionals, who are lured by better pay overseas. There is a virology institute waiting to be set up. While the COVID nightmare is over, the country must be better prepared for the next public health threat.


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