2020: Year of plague and disasters


FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao

The year 2020 started literally with a bang when Taal Volcano erupted on January 12 spewing ashfalls that reached Metro Manila, killing scores of people, and displacing thousands in towns surrounding Taal Lake. Months after the eruption, those evacuated from the lake are still without permanent homes and livelihood.

But the worst disasters were yet to come. On October 25, the Bicol Region, particularly Catanduanes, Legaspi and Camarines provinces, were hit hard by typhoon “Rolly” followed a week later by typhoon “Quinta” and “Ulysses” which were more deadly and devastating than “Rolly.”

The fury of “Ulysses” was centered in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela. Just like in the Bicol Region, thousands were marooned in rooftops due to rampaging floodwaters. Ulysses killed at least 42 people, injured more than 20 others and caused some of the worst flooding in years in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Super Typhoon Rolly, the world’s strongest typhoon of 2020, killed 25 people and flattened thousands of homes. Typhoon Quinta killed 16.

Aside from the dead, the three successive typhoons destroyed farmlands and infrastructure worth billions of pesos and added to the challenges confronting a nation still battling coronavirus infections and an economic recession.

The plague
But the worst catastrophe that visited our country and the world in 2020 was the coronavirus plague that started in China and has spread throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) called it COVID-19 because it started in late 2019.

The first case of COVID-19 in the Philippines was recorded on January 21, 2020 when a 39-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the plague, visited Cebu City and Dumaguete City before going to Manila where she was diagnosed with COVID-19. After having been treated at a government hospital, she was released. Of course, this single woman cannot be the only “spreader” of the virus; there were other Chinese tourists who visited the country, possibly carrying the virus, in subsequent months.

When the number of infections among Filipinos rose, the government on March 12 imposed lockdowns, then called community quarantine, to arrest the spread of the plague. There were varying quarantine measures, ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, depending on the degree of restrictions imposed by the government to control or mitigate the spread of the deadly plague.

Obviously, these measures were not enough because before the year ended cases continued to rise although there were fewer deaths.

The vaccines
The virus could not be totally eradicated and life returned to normal unless there is a vaccine to fight the virus. Unfortunately, while other countries have now rolled out massive inoculation programs such as the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, and Indonesia and Singapore in Southeast Asia, health officials in the country are still talking about ongoing negotiations to acquire the needed vaccines.

It seems our officials cannot get the act together as to what kind of vaccine to order. On December 21, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. dropped a bombshell by accusing someone in the Duterte government of having “dropped the ball” after the delivery of some 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the Philippines failed to materialize.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque, who was identified by Locsin as responsible for the botched deal with Pfizer, denied the accusation and insisted that discussions with Pfizer are still ongoing.

Aside from Pfizer, Sinovac from China, AstraZeneca from the United Kingdom, and Moderna from the U.S. are being eyed in our vaccination program.

Officials said the earliest that we can roll out the vaccine would be the second quarter of 2021.

The Philippines is eyeing to raise P73.2 billion from multilateral agencies for the purchase of the vaccines. This will be on top of the P72.5 billion earmarked in the 2021 budget.

According to Duque, vaccinating 60 million Filipinos, nearly 60 percent of the Philippine population, would be enough to develop herd immunity based on WHO guidance. The Philippines has a population of about 107 million.

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