The pains of the ‘new normal’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

From the March 15, 2020 start of lockdown, our country has indeed moved on gradually forward. In fact, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) saw it fit and without risk to the entire Filipino nation not to extend the third and last extension of the state of public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a nine percent minus or negative contraction of the Philippine economy on the first year of the hard lockdown, the country’s gross domestic product recovered lost grounds at 7.2 percent for the entire year average in 2022.

The total COVID-related deaths in the Philippines reached 66,256 as of March 17 this year. The most number of deaths notably rose during the most difficult period in our country when there were new outbreaks of more deadly variants of COVID-19. Variant strains called as “Alpha” to “Delta” broke out while there were not enough anti-COVID vaccines available yet.

But one COVID-related death is one death too many that we all did not wish to happen.

By the time the latest COVID-19 variant dubbed as “Omicron” erupted, there were already more than enough supply of vaccines for the entire world. Thankfully, the excess vaccine productions by pharmaceutical giants were donated to the WHO COVAX Facility and were equitably distributed to the Philippines and to other pandemic-stricken poor countries.

The current leadership of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) is still headed and chaired by Department of Health (DOH) under officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire and co-chaired by Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. In the most recent IATF Resolution No. 5-B signed last March 14 this year by both Vergeire and Abalos, the IATF “codified” the Alert Level System now being used in the regular monitoring of COVID-19 cases all over the country.

The Alert Level System is patterned after the storm warning signals in weather forecasting. An Alert Level 1 is the lowest, with Alert Level 5 as the highest or strongest warning of new COVID outbreak.

Under the Executive Order signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte, PBBM adopted the same localized or community quarantine classifications. On Oct.28 last year, PBBM has delegated to the IATF the Alert Level Classification of all local government units (LGUs), including provinces, highly urbanized cities, independent chartered cities, and component municipalities all over the country.

In the same IATF Resolution issued last week, the entire Metro Manila and most parts of the country have been placed under Alert Level-1 from March 16 to 31 this year. Alert Level 1 is the so-called “new normal.” Cases are rare and contact tracing can be used to control the virus and people take everyday precautions.

Except for Cotabato, the entire Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and many other far-flung areas in the Visayas and Mindanao remain under Alert Level-2. These are areas where COVID cases have low increase and total bed utilization and Intensive Care Unit utilization rates are also increasing.

The DOH blamed the expiry of anti-COVID vaccines to the hesitancy of people to get vaccinated as foremost reason. Many of them live in far-flung areas of the country where the information campaign of the national government obviously have not filtered down. There are several other reasons for it. But such life-saving vaccines were distributed for free to these LGUs, the bulk of which were procured and paid for by taxpayers’ money that got wasted.

From the latest data of the DOH dashboard regularly released every Monday, 78.4 million Filipinos out of the 110 million population of our country have been fully vaccinated with two jabs of primary doses of anti-COVID vaccines as of March 12 this year.

By the standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Philippines has attained already “herd immunity,” or 70 percent of the population got fully jabbed. From the same DOH dashboard, 23.8 million Filipinos got administered with the two-booster shots against COVID-19.

In the most recent opinion survey done from Dec. 10 to 14 this year by the Social Weather Station (SWS), 13 percent of the respondents have not received any anti-COVID jab yet. Translated to the country’s total population, this represents an equivalent of 9.5 million Filipinos who have not received any single dose of the vaccine. Of this same sample population, 69 percent indicated they are not willing to get anti-COVID jab. Only 12 percent of them are willing while 12 percent were undecided.

Although the state of public health emergency has already been lifted, the DOH continues with its regular monitoring of all COVID-19 cases and its newest variants of the highly infectious but less deadly strain of Omicron.

The Philippines though was among the last few countries that finally re-opened its doors to foreign travellers and tourists. After almost two years of closing down of our borders, the travel restrictions have given way to precautionary measures to keep us safe from any new outbreak of new strains of highly transmissible COVID-19 infection.

Mayor Francis Zamora who was my guest in last week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay was ecstatic to announce that his beloved city has gotten out of its notorious monicker “Wuhan sa San Juan.” It earned this dubious title from the country’s first local transmission of COVID-19 that originated from Wuhan City in the province of Hubei in China. “We’re back to normal, or new normal as it is now called,” Mayor Zamora enthused.

Quite true indeed the Philippines has crawled out of the woods from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The best proof of which are the rising prices of basic goods and services while the Philippine economy revved up from the doldrums spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upsurge of inflation that we have been experiencing clearly indicated our engines of economic growth are full steam ahead. These are the pains of the “new normal” that we now enjoy.

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