(This report is part of a 7-part series that highlights key stories and events in Palawan and Puerto Princesa City throughout the year 2021)
March 2020 was the month the Philippines closed its doors to the rest of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being in its early stages, fears of the virus spreading throughout the country prompted local governments to close their borders and restrict travel.
Death tolls rose in both urban and rural areas of the Philippines, even overwhelming hospital morgues and funeral homes.
Puerto Princesa, however, had a different kind of experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. While provinces all over the country had to deal with surges and overwhelmed facilities, the city mostly reported new cases from returning residents and other visiting individuals. No new deaths were reported yet early in the year.
That all changed in early February 2021, when an elderly woman from Barangay San Jose was reported to have died from COVID-19. Several of her relatives also tested positive after contact tracing was done by the city Incident Management Team (IMT).
However, this was not the start of the surge that would claim more than 400 lives by December this year. The first surge happened in mid-March, just when the city was preparing to relax travel requirements and reopen the tourism industry. This surge would continue to peak at more than 1,500 cases by late May and early June, according to IMT data.
Cases began to decline gradually in July. Vaccination efforts were already ramped up by this time since the City Health Office (CHO) would begin vaccinating the “economic frontliners.” But the dreaded second wave started happening in late September, with IMT chief Dr. Dean Palanca sounding a warning that if active cases would reach 1000, the city’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed.
Indeed, throughout October, a total of 100 lives were lost by the end of the month. Cases peaked at more than 1,000 a day. Hospitals were full, hotels filled with patients, and healthcare workers exhausted by the sheer number of cases. Palanca’s suspicions of the surge being caused by the Delta variant, which was then the dreaded variant before Omicron made its appearance in late November.
By December, active cases were down to less than 200. Health officials attributed the decline to vaccinations, which are now available to minors at 12 years old, and booster vaccines are already being given to those who first received their first batch of vaccines.
Puerto Princesa, much like the rest of the country, still has a long way to go in terms of the pandemic. After emerging from the Delta variant, the city is crawling out of a dark hole that has taken lives and livelihoods. With almost two years of being partially shut off from the rest of the world, the local economy, heavily reliant on tourism, has to wait on bated breath for the tourism arrivals.
However, with the Omicron variant fast-spreading and shutting down borders anew in many parts of the world, the threat of a resurgence throughout Palawan remains. In a place where time seemingly moved slower than the rest of the world, one can only hope that the city will catch up, hopefully not in COVID-19 cases (again), but in terms of vaccinations, controlling the number of cases, and reviving the local economy without risking another surge.
(Next: Health and Environment)