FAIR COMMENT | Alito L. Malinao
On Tuesday last week, the Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,303 new cases, the lowest since March 2 this year, buoying hopes that we might be able to celebrate a really merry Christmas next month after a bleak Christmas for the last two years.
A few days later, the government downgraded the country’s alert status to level 2 further easing restrictions and opening more business establishments to the public. The DoH said that even with the easing of restrictions, we will be able to reduce our daily cases to just a thousand by December 15.
Of course, we welcome this development. But are we really over the hump? Can we expect that this trend will continue so that we can return to normalcy?
Unfortunately, the experience of other countries could douse cold water to our optimism.
Let’s take the example of Singapore, which has been regarded as a model in combatting COVID-19. Last week it has been compelled to tighten public health restrictions amid a surge of cases and deaths related to the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus.
Earlier, the Singapore government had begun lifting restrictions, having adopted a “living with COVID” policy based on the fact that more than 80 percent of the city’s population is fully vaccinated. As new cases rapidly multiplied, however, health authorities have been forced to reverse course.
Singapore’s latest surge has taken place over the past month, from just 32 cases on August 20 to a daily figure of more than 1,000 by September 19. The daily case numbers have more than doubled over the past 10 days and are predicted to rise to more than 6,000.
Another example is the United Kingdom which also has lifted restrictions by opening business establishments, including English pubs and other recreation facilities and the resumption of in-person classes. The result is the recent surge of new COVID cases in the UK and authorities there are now hard-pressed to institute new anti-COVID measures, including the rollout of booster shots among its health care workers and other vulnerable sectors.
Europe is also experiencing new surges of the virus prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to describe Europe as the new epicenter of COVID.
It is a different case in the United States, the world’s richest country. Despite its massive vaccine rollout, the U.S. continues to record new daily cases with more than 1,000 deaths each day on the overage during the last few days. The U.S. has a total of 750,00 deaths from COVID, the highest in the world, and the figure is still rising.
WHO has estimated that deaths due to the pandemic that started in late 2019 could reach 10 to 15 million.
Despite the continued improvement, the government should be cautious in deciding on whether or not to further lower the alert level in Metro Manila. According to infectious disease expert Edsel Salvana, the government’s pandemic adviser, it is important to move cautiously. “You could not just say ‘let’s open that up.’ We need to be very careful,” he said.
Dr. Maricar Limpin, president of the Philippine College of Physicians and co-convener of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19, also noted that while there was now less pressure on hospitals, the country “cannot ease up drastically as we are seeing an upward trend globally.”