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PH, Southeast Asia spared from Covid-19?

THE Yellows must be gnashing their teeth that, so far, the incidence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (officially called Covid-19 by the World Health Organization) hasn’t been of such a horrible scale in our country as that in South Korea (7,513 cases; 54 deaths) or in countries on the other side of the globe from China — Italy (9,172 cases; 97 deaths) and Iran (7,161 cases; 2,327 deaths).

By contrast, the Philippines, which is geographically closer to China than Italy and Iran, and in the past two years has had an influx of Chinese tourists and online-gaming employee, has had, by the latest report, only 35 cases and one death. While some media will likely report today headlines like “Covid-19 cases jump” or something like that, 35 cases, compared to the thousands in several countries, is still a relatively low figure.

Some cynics claim that this might be due to the fact that those afflicted with Covid-19 had simply not been reporting it to doctors, much less going to a hospital for treatment. This is improbable though.

Descriptions of the Covid-19 disease portray it as a painful affliction and a Filipino afflicted with it would have gone to a government health center or hospital, whose doctors and administrators would have reported it not just because there is a mandatory protocol for reporting any form of communicable disease or a suspected one, but also because their own health and lives would have been at risk.

The medical community in Metro Manila is not just a small community, but a talkative one, as well; even a slight uptick of what could first be reported as cases of pneumonia or influenza would have immediately gone viral in social media — and most probably sensationalized by the Yellow media outlets like the ABS-CBN TV network and the Yellow broadsheets.

Furthermore, it has been at least two months since the disease broke out in Wuhan, China and those carrying the virus to the Philippines would have infected those they can affect, given the 14-day incubation period of Covid-19. But still, the rise in confirmed cases hasn’t been alarming, from just three in mid-February to the present 24.

One indication of the fact that the Philippines really hasn’t been hit hard by the epidemic — and we all certainly hope it won’t in the coming months — is that it shares this mere quality of “mild infection” with a group of countries we certainly share a lot of other qualities with — our Southeast Asian neighbors.

As shown in the accompanying table, our 24 cases are below the average 36 cases for eight Southeast Asian countries, including Taiwan. The phenomenon of Southeast Asian countries largely escaping Covid-19 is more highlighted in the ratios of cases per 1 million population.

This unusual course of Covid-19 has already been reported by the Western press, which, as is their habit, see it as a failure of Southeast Asian states, rather than a phenomenon to be investigated.

The Daily Telegraph, for instance, reported on February 29: “Indonesia, which has the world’s fourth largest population, and received 2 million Chinese visitors last year, including on direct flights from virus epicenter, Wuhan, has reported no confirmed infections; and Cambodia, a nation of 16 million with strong trade ties to China, only one.” (Indonesia and Cambodia a week later, however, reported 19 and 2 cases, respectively.)

The London-based newspaper explained the phenomenon away, even in the article’s headline: “Lack of cases in Southeast Asia sparks alarm over possible silent spread.”

What it is saying is that Indonesia and Cambodia are not reporting cases simply because they have suppressed such reports. This, of course, is garbage. A huge part of the Philippine press is still anti-China and anti-President Rodrigo Duterte, and has been itching to claim that the government has been hiding cases of the Covid-19 but can’t, as there isn’t any iota of proof for that at all.

Time.com — an entity that is making the United States citizen Maria Ressa a near saint — had a ridiculous explanation that is clearly part of an overarching US anti-China propaganda program: “At the beginning of the outbreak, several of these [Southeast Asian] governments downplayed the severity of the threat, publicly voicing their wariness of offending China upon whom their economies rely. In lieu of public health precautions or stringent defenses, they offered folk remedies — suggesting everything from consuming onions or alcohol to working less to ward off the coronavirus.”

“Surely the desire not to alienate China was a factor,” says a fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Overall, the region is just so heavily tied to China now.”

How logical is that argument, really?

So, why hasn’t Covid-19 spread in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia as much as in South Korea and Japan, or Italy and France, so far from Wuhan, China?

One reason that would be more logical than the government’s fear of China would be the number of Chinese tourists, who could have brought the virus with them. The more tourists, the more virus carried, the argument would say.

But this doesn’t stand up to facts.

According to Chinese government records (reported in China Daily), seven of the top 10 destinations of Chinese tourists in 2019 were in Southeast Asia: Philippines (10th), Cambodia (ninth), Taipei (eight), Malaysia (seventh); Vietnam (fifth), Indonesia (fourth) and Thailand (first).

So, why has Southeast Asia not been so hard hit by Covid-19? We don’t know, but the facts can’t be ignored.

I would hazard a guess. Perhaps our ancestors — who came from China and mixed with indigenous populations in the region — had developed some kind of immunity against an ancient form of Covid-19 as they traveled through jungles and lived in caves, wild sites where the disease is believed to have originated from bats. Obviously, descendants of the Chinese who didn’t travel out of China (and Koreans who descended from the Japanese) didn’t have such immunity, nor did the Italians, South Koreans, Iranians, French and Germans whose countries have been most hit hard by what CNN now calls a pandemic.

I hope my readers don’t get me wrong. I have merely presented data and made a purely speculative explanation of it. Covid-19 may still take a surprising turn and hit us and Southeast Asia as hard as it has South Korea and Europe.

To be careful, though, is better than to be sorry, and it has been statistically proven that senior citizens, as well as those with previous respiratory or heart problems, are most likely to contract Covid-19 and die from its effects.

In my case I have made it a personal policy not to attend parties, get-togethers and meetings of more than three people, as well as to shun hotels and restaurants. Maybe I’ll even decide later to buy an extra bag of rice.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
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