Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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FIRING LINE: Gov’t ill-prepared for Omicron surge

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Most clearly, the Duterte administration is ill-prepared in its pandemic response to this third wave of COVID-19 infections in the country. This is in spite of the fact that it had repeatedly warned the public weeks ahead of the severity of transmissions posed by the Omicron variant, which was found to bear 32 spike protein mutations.

So many times over, Malacanang and pandemic response authorities had echoed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s forewarning about the arrival of the most contagious variant of COVID-19 the world has seen as of yet, “It is not a matter of if, but of when.”

But everything the government seemed to have done to prepare was a matter of “if at all.”

The surge has gone from 433 daily cases to 5,434 in 10 days and 28,707 in the next seven days. Such a leap was expected, but not just because of the transmissibility of Omicron but the failure of several pillars of the strategy to combat the pandemic – testing, contact tracing, border control, and quarantine protocols.

For contact tracing, even DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano admitted it was short of funds for contact tracing of this scale. Congress is partly to blame for the budget cut for the purpose to P250 million.

When the positivity rate peaked to 40 percent and the daily cases hit over 10,000, testing upwards of 40,000 people a day for COVID-19 became way too much for testing labs to handle, especially since healthcare workers and lab technicians themselves were falling sick.

That’s why the Department of Health (DOH) came up with the new home quarantine and isolation guidelines last week. People who exhibited symptoms or were exposed to a COVID-positive environment had to be isolated or home quarantined right away without the benefit of even an antigen test, much less a confirmatory RT-PCR test.

And as the healthcare capacity utilization rates at hospitals went up to critical levels – with more healthcare workers downed by Omicron themselves – even home treatment of symptomatic patients was in peril with the shortage in medicines as basic as paracetamol.

Meantime, even immunity-boosting food like vegetables and fruits were climbing up in prices at a time they are most needed by entire families hit by COVID-19.

In the middle of all this, the government gets cocky by blaming the unvaccinated for the runaway number of infections; and being quick to impose restrictive measures to their mobility with the threat of arrest, penalties, and imprisonment.

Right now, people getting sick by the tens of thousands are being left to fend for themselves in their houses, fed with false assurances that the government is in control, that its preparations and protocols are in place.

And while it could not even afford free testing, medicines, “ayuda” or even hospital beds for all, it floats the false comfort of inconclusive data that Omicron hits individuals mildly. Filipino families, many of them now sick, need greater effort and action than that!

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at

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