By more than 220 days since the national government imposed tight quarantine restrictions throughout the country, Palawan overall has succeeded in keeping its COVID-19 numbers at bay, fumbling with occasional difficulties along the way but managing it well.

This week, Puerto Princesa City proclaimed itself COVID-free.  Palawan towns, including Calamian Islands Group and Cuyo that had also surged in local transmission cases, also started to trim their numbers. To date, only 48 active cases remained throughout the province out of a total of 458 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with only four recorded deaths and 364 recoveries.

It can be told that it wasn’t too long ago that the medical community in Palawan was preparing for the worse scenario. The healthcare workers were wired to follow a strict 14-day rotational shift so as to not overwhelm the hospital staff, and a matrix of COVID-19 patient care was set in place.

They knew that Palawan was not capable to battle a tsunami of COVID-19 cases, with only seven dedicated mechanical ventilators and a handful of specialists. Tough decisions were to be made if an outbreak happened, forcing the local government to close its doors to the rest of the world and take advantage of its natural isolation being an island province.

The Ospital Ng Palawan (ONP) on May 15 acquired its temporary license to operate as a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) laboratory, marking a landmark step towards effective infectious disease monitoring in the province. ONP was among the select-hospitals outside Metro Manila that was authorized to run a testing laboratory. Before then, the local governments arranged chartered flights amounting to at least P50,000 per flight just to carry its samples to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Manila.

The ONP Covid laboratory has been critical to the fight, as testing enabled health authorities to better manage the disease even as community transmission cases in the city threatened to break the doors open.

Hotels, which previously served as “home away from home” for travelers, were converted to quarantine facilities for returning individuals and overseas Filipino workers. At least P2,000 per day was allocated for each returning individual to ensure no protocol would be breached upon their trip home.

At one point, even the seasonal fishermen stuck outside the province were brought home in a series of coordinated communications.

Tight border checkpoints were set in place with the main goal to prevent possible disease-carriers from spreading it to the community. The locals became extremely vigilant, enabled by social media, to immediately report who among the community members have breached protocols.

A string of COVID-19 cases was observed mid-September when the province had first experienced resemblance of normalcy. Several localized lockdowns, liquor ban, and curfew restrictions were imposed to mitigate its spread and the numbers had started to decrease after a month, with Puerto Princesa recently announcing that it was once again COVID-19 free.

But Palawan’s fight against COVID is far from won, as the game-changing promise of a vaccine is yet to emerge clearly from the horizon. The “new normal” state of affairs still dictates how our lives will be lived, constrained as it is with protocols and their attendant implications on our daily tasks and businesses.

It is today perhaps that should be appointed as the time for regrouping and for the reckoning of valuable experiences on the part of local governments and health frontliners. This, if only to ensure that Palawan will not let its guard down but will be better prepared for any further challenge from this dreaded virus.