WHAT’s happening? We, like most of the world, are in the midst of a surge in Covid-19 infections – in effect the third wave of the pandemic that started in March 2020 and worse than the first two. Even the world’s richest nations with massive vaccinations undertaken are being hit. For example, the US, with 54 percent of its population already vaccinated, still had cases the other day of 122,212 per 1 million people compared to our 18,898.
The third wave has particularly hit badly nearly all Asian countries; even those (like Vietnam and Malaysia) that had seemed to have the pandemic under control last year. Japan, for instance, has posted 12,469 cases per 1 million population.
What happened? As all organisms are wont to do because of their imperative to survive, Covid-19 mutated into what is called the Delta variant (in the epidemiologists’ Greek-letter nomenclature). The variant was first detected in India in March. Probably since the virus had infected numerous people (33 million) in that country, it gave it a huge number of bodies in which to evolve.
Delta is now the most dominant strain responsible for infections worldwide. The World Health Organization reported that its genome sequencing showed 70 percent of infections here are by Delta.
A big difference of Delta from the first Covid-19 virus is that it is more highly transmissible. Unlike the first three variants whose carrier infected an average of two people, Delta infects eight to nine persons. This is most probably due to the fact that a Delta host has a “viral load” 1,000 times more than the previous virus.
Delta naturally infected the most vulnerable, the unvaccinated. Many more Filipinos below 60 years old, who were unvaccinated as they were not in the priority class for vaccination, have been infected, inflating the number of cases.
Thus, where Covid cases here were in the 4,000 level in July, in two months’ time, the number shot up to the 22,000 level reported the other day. The remarkably accurate OCTA Research group doesn’t discount cases hitting 30,000 daily before it subsides.
The good news though is that the rate of mortality due to Delta are lower than that in the second wave, although the number of cases serious enough that the infected needed to be brought to the hospital are a bit higher, thus pushing many hospitals’ facilities in the metropolitan Manila region for Covid-19 to the breaking point.
The overwhelming evidence in the US and Europe – no data for the Philippines – is that the current available vaccines are protecting people from the Delta variant as much as they did against the first variants.
There are, however, the so-called “breakthrough” cases, in which despite being vaccinated, a person got infected anyway and was severely sick. The US data though shows a minuscule 0.02 percent of those vaccinated go on to be infected.
What should be done? Still, the two science-based means of meeting the now Delta-dominated pandemic are: 1) lockdowns or quarantines to prevent a host from spreading his viral load to others; and 2) vaccination.
Those who believe in the Swedish model of doing nothing but wait for herd immunity are cuckoo. Some 10 percent of the Swedish population were infected because of their stupid dreams, compared to us, with just 2 percent. China, which has used these two means as rigorously as possible (55 percent of its citizens are fully vaccinated), has all but defeated Covid-19, even with Delta. Only a minuscule 0.007 percent of its 1.4 billion population have been infected. The other day it had only 36 cases of Covid-19; the US had 39,600 and India 30,000.
Variations of the lockdown/vaccination formula are certainty rational to reduce the economic impact of a shutdown of all economic activities in an infected area.
What’s government done? This administration’s big mistake has been to buckle under the pressure from business groups (and wacky opinion writers, maybe) demanding that lockdowns be eased – in July, just when Delta gained a foothold in the country and started to infect more and more people.
Vaccinations obviously have got to be rushed. There are local government agencies that have not been efficient in facilitating the health department’s rural health units to vaccinate as many people as they can. To be sure, the government’s vaccination program has not been that bad. At least, 76 percent of residents in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic, have received their first jab as of August 24, and 20 percent for the entire country. To vaccinate 50 percent (the government target is 70 percent) of the population, we need to procure 100 million doses.
As of August 2, some 49.9 million have arrived, and another 3.8 million are expected to be delivered in the next few weeks, for a cumulative total of 53.7 million procured so far for the million doses that are needed. Half full or half empty?
Local government heads and businessmen I have talked to have been all praises for the efficiency and integrity of President Duterte’s point man for the country’s vaccination effort, retired Army general Carlito Galvez Jr., who is the chief implementer of the National Action Plan Against Covid-19.
Essentially, it’s now a race between vaccination and Delta’s spread although an emerging big task of government is to build as fast as it can temporary Covid-19 facilities.
What should be a reason for some optimism is that government managed to procure even that much amount of vaccine doses in the period when rich countries cornered the supply to ensure there would be enough for their citizens. Therefore, there’s likely to be a buyers’ market in the coming months, and the vaccine makers will be falling over each other to sell their wares. This is especially as – at least I hope – it could be the 1917-1918 scenario when the plague suddenly ceases after two years. In the case of Covid-19, that would be March 2022.
Heck, even Senators Richard Gordon and Franklin Drilon with the finest tooth comb that they could get have been unable to find the minutest evidence of something wrong in the government’s vaccine procurement, which is after all the most important program to defeat the pandemic.
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