POSTSCRIPT / April 29, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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When we joined 26 COVID ‘millionaires’

THE Philippines gained entry Monday into the Millionaires’ Club of, so far, 26 nations that have logged more than one million coronavirus infections among the 220 countries and territories ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The saving grace of this dubious distinction was that the country’s active-case count has seen a continuous decline, attributed by health authorities to a large number of recoveries that as of that same day numbered 914,952 versus the 1,006,428 total infections.

Among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, only Indonesia (pop. 275,885,475) and the Philippines (pop. 110,770,872) have made it to the millionaires’ list. The most populous in ASEAN, both countries use Chinese vaccines to roll out their mass inoculation.

Population density is not the only determinant of the extent and speed of COVID infection. Geography, politics, and the efficiency of the pandemic management are among the other factors affecting the country’s public health, including its handling of viral infection.

Rated in relation to its per one-million population, Indonesia has 5,970 infections and 162 deaths, compared to the Philippines’ 9,086 infections and 152 deaths. Their infection scores, and that of India last week, are the lowest among the world’s COVID-19 “millionaires”.

India’s 12,678 infections and 142 deaths (per 1M pop.) are dwarfed by its population of 1,391,086,597, the second largest in the world after China’s 1,439,323,776. It is ironic that India, now reeling from waves of COVID deaths, is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines.

Eight other ASEAN members actually have lower COVID deaths (per 1M pop.) than the Philippines. They are Thailand, with 853 infections and 2 deaths; Singapore, 10,369 infections, 5 deaths; Cambodia, 624 infections, 5 deaths; Brunei, 506 infections, 7 deaths; Malaysia, 12,100 infections, 44 deaths; and Myanmar, 2,609 infections, 59 deaths. Laos has 69 infections but no figure for deaths.

China, the source of President Duterte’s initial vaccine deliveries, logs 63 infections and only 3 deaths per 1M of its population. Compare that with the United States’ 98,845 infections and 1,764 deaths; and Russia’s 32,684 infections and 744 deaths.

Aside from monitoring COVID-19 data of fellow ASEAN members, many Filipinos often look also at those of Vietnam, which has 29 infections and 0.4 deaths per 1M population, and next-door neighbor Taiwan which has 46 infections and 0.5 deaths.

The “millionaires” list that the Philippines got into is topped by the US (with 32,875,045 infections), India (17,636,307), Brazil (14,370,456), France (5,503,996), Russia (4,771,372), Turkey (4,667,281), United Kingdom (4,406,946), Italy (3,971,114), Spain (3,488,469), Germany (3,307,769), Argentina (2,879,677), Colombia (2,787,303), Poland (2,762,323), Iran (2,417,230), Mexico (2,329,534), Ukraine (2,038,248), Peru (1,768,186), Indonesia (1,647,138), Czechia (1,620,206), South Africa (1,576,320), Netherlands (1,467,337), Canada (1,187,918), Chile (1,175,614), Romania (1,047,520), and Iraq (1,037,858 infections).

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BUT those are just measurement numbers (taken from the WorldOmeters site that tallies global official reports), and the bare figures do not tell the deeper human story.

Nor can we follow the underlying narrative by simply watching videos of people moving in lines like ants in search of food and other essentials in the Community Pantries that have sprouted in neighborhoods throughout the country.

We know why some people took the initiative of putting up these pantries, there is no need to repeat the reasons here. Being improvisations, the makeshift food shelves may not always be able to stick to pandemic protocols laid down by the authorities.

Despite this, we hope that concerned parties in government and the civilian community, acting in good faith, will find an acceptable middle ground that will ensure the efficient operation of the pantries while limited supplies last.

* * *

GIVEN its superior resources, the government can fill in the gaps, instead of pouncing on the unintended minor breaches of pandemic protocols, and help – instead of hamper – the normal operations of the pantries.

If some people show up without face masks, for instance, maybe they could just be given masks on the spot. The organizers of the pantry and the people lining up can gently remind one another of the protocol, especially that rule on safe distancing.

With self-discipline, there will be no need for or even a hint of the presence or pressure of the police or the military to keep order. We should be able to preserve the civilian character, and appearance, of this laudable Bayanihan effort of Filipinos helping one another.

Politicians should not inflict their unnecessary presence or that of their ward leaders, or make their tarps and other propaganda visible or audible in the vicinity.

* * *

MORE than 1.06 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across 172 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg as of the other day. That was roughly 19.7 million doses a day.

The vaccination rate in the US under the Biden administration is an average of 2,717,062 doses per day. At this pace, it will take another three months to cover 75 percent of the population.

In the Philippines, some 1.77 million doses have been administered, with 238,000 persons fully vaccinated, meaning only 0.2 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The goal is to achieve as quickly as possible the vaccination of 70 to 80 percent of the national population to achieve herd immunity. This is the number of persons given immunity that is sufficient to act as a buffer to the further spread of the coronavirus.

Bloomberg says that while enough doses have been given to fully vaccinate 6.9 percent of the global population, the distribution has been uneven. The rich countries are getting vaccinated about 25 times faster than those with the least resources.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2021)

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