The Department of Health disclosed this week that the more potent delta strain of the pandemic virus has reached the country. More contagious and deadly, it threatens to spread faster than we can cope and is posing a serious challenge particularly to areas that are most vulnerable owing to their limited capacity in competencies like contact tracing or in their overall capacity to manage infections.
The DOH had announced there were at least 16 cases of the delta strain discovered in parts of Mindanao and at the national capital region. Iloilo had to be placed under ECQ based on findings that this new form of the virus had reached the island province.
It is tempting to conclude that this number is understated, considering the limited testing capacity of the Philippine genome center. It took months before the laboratory was able to confirm its findings, and it could only test a small fraction of over 5,000 cases of COVID-19 that are reported daily. In the case of Puerto Princesa City which stood out as a national hotspot as early as the first quarter this year, no sequencing on local samples was done to profile the surge properly, or at least nothing was announced in public, despite requests from the city health authorities.
The infection rate in the Palawan capital has gone down considerably since, prompting the downgrading this week of its status to general community quarantine. Hospitals, however, remain in high capacity, and, more importantly, the overall health care infrastructure in the province which suffered heavy beating from the virus remains essentially the same. A dreadful scenario awaits the entire province in case of another outbreak.
The lull in cases must prompt Palawan to double its efforts at strengthening its capacity to manage the pandemic, learning from its recent experience. The city Incident Management Team (IMT) must earn its spurs in its intense duel with the virus and draw valuable lessons to preempt another surge that is potentially more dangerous.
For its part, the provincial government simply has to step up its game. It has come up short. Even the Commission on Audit pointed this out in its 2021 audit. Its spending capacity for Covid response at a mere 51 percent leaves much to be desired. To be fair, the capitol has responded to the COA report claiming that its unused funds from Bayanihan and from local sources have all been “obligated”. But as to what end, it wasn’t at all explained till now.
The current state of things in Palawan, while better than in recent months, remains fluid at best. In the absence of a breakthrough in the city and province’s vaccination rollouts or a significant makeover of its health infrastructure and capacity, a temporary respite is all we have at the moment.