To give a true picture of the COVID infection rates in the country, the government must provide free testing to all people, especially the poor.
I say this with conviction because recently my entire family experienced all the symptoms of the Omicron variant and I personally texted my barangay captain, who referred me to the BHERT as in barangay health emergency (better to be called bureaucracy) response team, which in turn texted me and my children the procedures to undertake to be able to get a free testing from city hall. We are all fully vaxxed except for my 5- year- old grandson.
My daughter who does not live with us got herself and partner tested by a private company and turned out positive. My two sons who live with me had their test at Red Cross drive-through in Trinoma and we are awaiting results within 24 to 48 hours. As for myself and my grandson we could not leave the house because he is unvaccinated and he can’t be left all alone in the house. So whatever the results of the my two sons’ tests turn out, that would perhaps be same as mine.
I said the Department of Health figures on COVID cases are not accurate because there are more people, just like me, who would rather treat themselves at home than wait for their barangays to respond to request for free tests, which the BHERT person told us, “would take very long to materialize.”
In whatever village or street you turn to, you can hear from a distance someone coughing continuously, sneezing and blowing their noses—and these are sure signs of Omicron.
How did we get Omicron
From just one case in November, the variant came in from travelers (with two of them skipping their hotel quarantine periods) who interacted with the locals who then became spreaders themselves.
Imagine in 16 days our cases surged from 65 on December 22 to 17,172 on January 6—and I even contest this 17, 172 because this does not represent the true picture of those infected (including those similarly situated like my family).
Shocked by this figure, President Duterte gave a stern warning to all those unvaccinated (especially those who refuse to be inoculated) to stay at home or be arrested.
The tally, which was more than triple recorded on Tuesday brought total cases to over 2.88 million, and deaths to more than 51,700, the second highest COVID-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia, Reuters said.
Considering that at end of 2021, 49.8 million people had been fully vaccinated, or 45 percent of the country's 110 million people. Under existing rules unvaccinated people in the capital region of Manila can only step out of their homes for essential trips.
The Philippines has so far detected 43 domestic and imported cases of Omicron, prompting the government to tighten curbs, Reuters noted.
Tight supply of paracetamol
It’s crazy that when supplies of vital flu medicine like paracetamol runs short in the market, the heads of the departments of trade and industry and health would at once blame hoarding as the cause. But what they do not see is their inability to check the markets for the supplies, which should always be there if only they did their jobs religiously. It is the task of the DTI to check on supply and prices and to regulate, if need be, medicine prices.
As for the DoH, as implementer of the (RA6675) Generics Act of 1988 and the Cheaper Medicines Act it failed to collect reports from branded and generics drugs manufacturers the status of their production and supply releases to the market.
Ironically, they both hollered hoarding at the first sign of paracetamol shortage when it was their duties to monitor both market and supply sides. Such ineptitude.
What went wrong?
From the very start in March 2020, the government should have provided free and intensive testing to all people. This way we can get a true and representative picture of the disease.
It should have poured massive resources—not in face shields which benefited only a few including the Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., which would soon be back and happy once face shields would against be required in areas under Alert Level 3 and therefore happy days again for Pharmally and its cohorts in government—into testing kits that should have been given to barangays in depressed areas and individual homes with DoH teaching them the proper use and correct reading of the kits.
Instead the government relied on private laboratories, many of which do not usually report on real-time therefore this does not give us an accurate picture of number of infections.
Then contact tracing—if any—is still at its Jurassic stage. Malls, shops, restaurants and churches require people to sign a form, which no one cares to check for completeness and accuracy to prevent long queues and no one knows what happens to the data collected. Are they submitted to DoH or DICT for inputting into the computer and is there any app that would link it directly to DoH for real-time validation? No one knows.
In terms of isolation and quarantine facilities and vaccination centers, it is a good thing that private conglomerates volunteered to put up these things otherwise if we depended on government, the infected and non-infected would all be packed in one lousy place.
When most countries in the world were already administering booster shots, our government was just announcing its plans on boosters and it took an extremely long time for the government to order and pay and ship the boosters here. Up to now a lot of senior citizens and those with comorbidities have not gotten their boosters and Omicron is attacking these most vulnerable people, along with children below 12.
From the first and second doses and then to boosters, there should have been provisions for walk-ins because online pre- registration is impossible for many households without internet and without computers. Besides there are so many, the elderly perhaps, who do not know how to go about applying for such services electronically.
Even in deciding travel bans and border closure, it took eternity for the government to decide on this and by then the Delta and the Omicron have entered our borders.
In the words of Dr. Tony Leachon, who used to be a consultant for IATF until his contradictory views got them riled, this government never had a game plan on how to handle an epidemic turned pandemic which it hopes (against all possibilities) to turn endemic.
The government relied so much on the largesse of the private sector because it already squandered and plundered the coffers and gave the money to the wrong people for the wrong purposes.
Another variant may enter
When the President met with the Covid task force Thursday, he voiced concern about a new variant that has infected 12 in southeastern France called IHU (B.1.640.2) and has had 46 mutations, which scientists now considering a worrisome variant. The first case was linked to a traveler who came from Cameroon, western Africa.
However, experts were quick to announce that just because a new variant had been discovered, that did not necessarily mean IHU will prove as infectious as other strains, including Omicron.
The genomes were obtained by next-generation sequencing. The authors of the paper claimed that the person who was identified with the IHU variant, was fully- vaccinated. The person tested positive for covid after returning from a three-day trip to Cameroon.
The authors of the research paper said "subsequent detection... of three mutations in the spike gene to screen for variants... did not correspond to the pattern of the Delta variant involved in almost all SARS-CoV-2 infections at that time.”
Health experts say they expect more variants to emerge as COVID-19 cases continue to rise but will not gain popularity.
Another that went wrong is that government officials themselves proved to be the first violators of the health and quarantine protocols, which is why people saw this as a “double standard” policy where small-time violators are punished publicly while violators from high offices flaunted their misdeeds.
Even in budget setting, healthcare is not a primordial concern of the government compared to infrastructure. But who would build and use those infrastructures if you have a sick population? Who would run the factories if the workers are sick and dying?
We have not mustered COVID, Delta and Omicron yet and Odette and more calamities and catastrophes will still come our way. But government as usual is still without a concrete plan for public health and environment.
Why expect more?