Aug 12, 2020

Editorial: Palawan’s COVID-19 response, in perspective

The week wrapped up for the country breaching the 40,000 mark predicted by the University of the Philippines for the end of June. And while Spokesman Harry Roque faux pas’d a victory proclamation when we came under the prediction by just a few thousands at month’s end, the awkward celebration was mercilessly cut down by a deluge of over 41,000 cases as July emerged.

The World Health Organization has raised concern over the country’s slide in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the world health body noted that the Philippines was leading in the rate of increase of infected individuals in the whole Western Pacific region, surpassing 22 other nations including China.

The week wrapped up for the country breaching the 40,000 mark predicted by the University of the Philippines for the end of June. And while Spokesman Harry Roque faux pas’d a victory proclamation when we came under the prediction by just a few thousands at month’s end, the awkward celebration was mercilessly cut down by a deluge of over 41,000 cases as July emerged.

Palawan has been a microcosm of such trend, where the rise in the number of cases went alongside the easing of quarantine restrictions. When the province downgraded from the nationwide lockdown to a modified general community quarantine as May drew to a close, it only had two confirmed albeit isolated cases, with no indication of local or community transmission arising from both.

The opening of its ports to stranded residents in the weeks that followed however saw a steady rise in Palawan’s numbers. As this week closed, the province broke past its own 40, with most of the cases originating from returning residents (LSIs) and overseas workers.

A sense of victory had also been tossed up in the air, with Capitol declaring its own Roquesque victory, diminishing COVID-19’s potency as less threatening than tuberculosis and other known global diseases.

The recent trends in COVID-19 rise, both globally and here in Palawan, should be taken as a serious challenge to improve our local capacity to hold down the pandemic in our own theater of war. As WHO had pointed out, the problem lies on the efficacy of the country’s overall response to the threat, including among others the lack of mass testing.

An honest assessment of Palawan’s capacity to handle the pandemic threat is urgently needed if we are to stop the bleeding. There are, for instance, documented weaknesses on the capacity of our health system to properly handle isolation and quarantine procedures, resulting in the spread of the disease.

Beyond Puerto Princesa City which hosts the bulk of active cases, many towns have zero capacity to handle severe cases and have limited means to properly do isolation. All it takes is a breakout case of community transmission, one that the city had already experienced, to plunge them into a real crisis situation.

The agenda of a re-opening should take a back seat to that of re-calibrating our response to COVID-19, with a constructive policy approach to beefing up our capacity to survive this protracted battle.

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