POSTSCRIPT / November 19, 2020 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Pandemic dwarfs typhoon problems

THE COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted our lives, infected at least 410,720 and killed 7,862 of us, is far more treacherous and devastating than the seasonal typhoons blowing through these parts.

For the past nine months, the coronavirus has been the top grim reaper. In contrast, only nine days after the last typhoon casualty was buried and damaged dwellings were patched up — those who survived the wrath of the long-abused environment have started resuming their normal lives.

Weather forecasting has so advanced that scientists can predict with astounding accuracy the speed, direction and magnitude of a typhoon although there is nothing they can do to stop it in its track. The saving grace is that forecasting helps communities in its path to prepare.

On the other hand, tracking the spread of the silent and invisible killer virus is quite tricky. Without a vaccine to prevent its taking root in the body, the best way to avoid succumbing to it is by, among other things, sanitizing surroundings, wearing a face mask, washing the hands, and keeping a safe distance from others.

We checked Tuesday, one month after the global Covid-19 tally showed the Philippines at No. 20 in  number of cases, and we noticed that it has dropped to No. 26. Indonesia has risen to No. 21, still topping the list of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The government’s economic managers report, meanwhile, that we have lost more than ₱3 trillion due to Covid-19, including missed opportunities costs. The losses keep growing by the day.

The damage wrought by the typhoons to structures, property, crops and lives, meanwhile, is not even half of that P3-trillion Covid-19 figure. And the toll has stopped rising with the exit of the storm.

To distance themselves from blame for the devastating floods, officials usually order a probe, then regurgitate the old line about the need for reforestation, dredging of waterways, cleaning of sewers and esteros, et cetera, until the outcry dies down.

If our common good intentions fail, we can try telling ourselves – and believe it — that typhoons somehow blow away air pollution and with it perhaps some of the coronavirus stalking the land.

We used to go to the hills of Antipolo very early in the morning after a big typhoon to see the dark brown cloud hanging over Metro Manila “gone with the wind”. The refreshing sight, however, was only for limited viewing – the shroud was back soon thereafter.

 Vaccine biggest single Covid expense

SOON to hit us like an onrushing train in a tunnel is the huge amount needed to purchase vaccine for 50 million Filipinos and keep it in sub-zero deep storage, then manage the logistical nightmare of distributing and injecting the preparation before it loses its efficacy.

To help finance the expensive endeavor, some officials may have to free up the billions they have tucked away as confidential or intelligence funds. Otherwise, the government would end up shifting priorities and borrowing $10 billion to buy the vaccine.

There is a Bayanihan-3 budget item of P10 billion that can be used to defray the cost and logistical requirements of the vaccine. Since that is not much, Sen. Ralph Recto proposes to augment it with P150 billion from non-tax revenue collections in excess of targets.

The money has to be raised fast. After the friendly Med Sales Rep removed his mask, he stretched out his palm for a down payment. Of course, that’s how it works in the real world where one has to have the stomach for a chopsuey of mathematics and politics.

We got the impression from the President’s remarks middle of this year that by December vaccine would be available from a friendly neighbor at a give-away low price. Now we’re being told that we have to pay for it. Of course, there is no such thing as a free siopao.

At the rate the vaccine is being developed and its purchase being negotiated, its being hinted at as the government’s Christmas gift to the people may not materialize. It may be available for mass inoculation next year, we speculate, in time for the penitential Semana Santa.

As we understand the intermittent signals, the vaccine will be given by the Department of Health at no cost to public health front liners, Duterte’s soldiers and policemen, and then to the poorest of the poor, in that descending order of priority.

Expect skeptics to stay wide awake watching for VIPs, government officials, or members of the ruling dynasties cutting the long lines for priority inoculation — and, assuming they manage to sneak in, if they would pay with their own (not taxpayers’) money.

There are no indications which of the vaccines being talked about will be purchased eventually by the government. The early starters – the Chinese and the Russian vaccines – reportedly have been delayed in the Phase III clinical trials on humans.

Based on news reports, leading the pack in the US are Moderna (claiming 94-percent efficacy), Pfizer with its partner BioNTech (90-plus percent), and Johnson & Johnson (clinical tests paused).

Four vaccines being developed by Chinese firms are on Phase III human trials, a good number reportedly on People’s Liberation Army members and workers being deployed abroad. Front runners Sinopharm and Sinovac said they are not ready yet to offer their vaccines commercially.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 19, 2020)

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