The COVID-19 story in Palawan started long before the imposition of the series of lockdowns that started mid-March 2020.

Known as a global destination for tourists, the island province was a sitting target, vulnerable for the rapid spread of the virus coming from outside the country.

After all, no travel ban was implemented at the time and flights were continuous as the province geared for “peak travel season” as Palawan maintained to be an international hub for visitors.

On January 5, 2020, a Brazilian family on vacation in El Nido town, who showed flu-like symptoms related to the novel coronavirus disease, was quarantined at Ospital Ng Palawan (ONP).

The family arrived in Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from Wuhan, China, and traveled to El Nido town for a family vacation.

The 10-month old baby spiked a high fever while the father suffered from sore throat. They were in an island hopping tour prior to the manifestations of the symptoms.

At the time, the strain of coronavirus was first reported on December 2019, and has only killed a total of 26 people in China.

Local health authorities had no idea as no protocol was set by the Department of Health (DOH), and samples had to be sent overseas to Victorian Infectious Diseases References Laboratory in Australia for a confirmatory test.

Thankfully, they all tested negative from the disease and were sent home to continue their family vacation.

Almost everyone was on the edge, and people throughout the greater Luzon called for an immediate travel ban against China, citing that the country’s healthcare system was not ready for a surge of COVID-19 cases.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte said that the travel ban was premature and will possibly sour the Philippines’ relation with China.

The morning after President Rodrigo Duterte first announced the imposition of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on March 17, 2020, every beat reporter was given special assignments for full COVID-19 coverage.

The implementing guidelines of the stay-at-home order were vague on its face and the local government units (LGU) throughout the mainland Luzon had to fill the gaps of the marching order.

Nanay Dayang, an indigenous people (IP) from the Tagbanuas in Nagtabon, was selling her products along the streets of San Miguel, carrying what seemed to be a heavy load of native bamboo derivatives to earn a decent living.

She was not wearing a mask at the time as she walked past the long queue of cars trying to pass through the tight police checkpoints. She did not know what was going on, nor had the slightest idea about the deadly virus that caused the normalcy in the bustling city to a halt.

“Hindi ko alam, sir. Baka umuwi na lang ako kasi wala naman halos tao sa labas,” she told Palawan News when asked what her plans were after she was warned by the police that she can’t pass through the cordoned boundary.

A few days later, I was woken up by several phone calls from my editors to cover a press conference by city mayor Lucilo Bayron at the city hall.

We received a tip that the virus reached the MIMAROPA region when the first case of the disease was confirmed in Puerto Princesa on March 20, 2020.

The case involved a 26-year-old male Australian tourist who had already left the province at the time of confirmation.

The tourist arrived in Manila on March 5 before taking a flight to Puerto Princesa. The man stayed for five days in a resort in San Vicente prior to seeking medical consultation after he exhibited symptoms.

He was brought to the ONP in Puerto Princesa for sample collection for testing on March 14. The tourist managed to secure clearance after two days to take a “mercy flight” to get out of the province via Clark airport after his fever subsided.

More than a year after the first reported COVID-19 case, Puerto Princesa is entering a new surge that is bringing its healthcare system to its knees.

The start of the local vaccination campaign, a solution to the growing problem, remained at a slow pace only inoculating around 3,500 city residents, with the supplies only dependent on the allocations from the national government.

The city government’s plan was to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the local populace so as to have herd immunity against the deadly virus.

The vaccination program, which was bankrolled by the city government of around P500 million is still on hold because of the expected delivery only by the last quarter of 2021 due to the increasing global demand of the vaccines.

With no clear end on sight, all we can do for now is to hope for the best that the virus will not barge in through our doors taking away a member of the family.

I hope we all make it alive. See you when all this is over.

(To be continued…)

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.