Pandemic not easing up, as UK case shows

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - December 23, 2020 - 12:00am

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has placed his country under a new lockdown following the discovery of a new strain of the coronavirus which the UK health ministry has described as "running out of control." In response, several countries in Europe have issued travel bans to and from the UK, with Germany and Belgium among the first to do so.

Reports from London paint a very terrifying picture of the development. The new strain, while still seemingly unique to the UK, appears to spread more quickly, with cases in London doubling in just a week, and a few cases turning up in Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. In ordering the clampdown, Johnson said "when the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense."

Maria van Kerkhove, the technical lead for COVID-19 of the World Health Organization, told the BBC that the new strain, called "B.1.1.7. lineage," has almost a dozen genetic mutations compared with the virus that emerged from Wuhan. These include changes in the way it infects people. Kerkhove said it is 70 percent more transmissible than other circulating SARS COV 2 strains.

What makes the development not just terrifying but also worrying is that it is not known to what extent the SARS COV 2 virus may evolve to escape immunity. While studies are underway to understand better what humanity is facing, it is not known at this point what the impact of the B.1.1.7. strain has on the vaccine just being rolled out by a number of manufacturers. Kerkhove said current info suggests no impact on the vaccines.

With the exception of the few cases reported in Australia, there is no evidence that the B.1.1.7. strain has made it into Asia. But the Philippines must not wait until it does. This early the government must start considering what its defensive actions should be. More importantly, it must be ready to kick in with its response without waiting for the new strain to already have slipped past the door.

We cannot have a repeat of what happened when this whole thing began. While the Wuhan virus reared its head in December, the Philippines continued to accept Chinese travelers as late as mid-January, most notoriously that Chinese couple from Wuhan responsible for triggering the Philippine phase of the pandemic after planing into Cebu and visiting other places from there.

With the country now right smack in the middle of the Christmas season, the government cannot afford to lose sight of the tough choices it has to make, considering the many factors that are already in play, such as the economy and deep-rooted traditions. One thing it must not shove aside for any consideration, however, is safety and human life.

Whatever government decides in response to the UK crisis, it must come up in a day or two. The urgency of the situation cannot be overemphasized. The Philippines cannot afford a further prolongation of the pandemic, much less its worsening. But even more than the government, Filipinos themselves must react accordingly. They must take charge of their own safety. There are many more Christmases. We only have one life.

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