Editorial: Difficult dance

·3 min read

SOMETHING is amiss in the views concerning protocols for inbound overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and returning overseas Filipinos (ROFs). It gets lost in the partisan brawl, driving the argument further away from science that inspired the guidelines.

The context behind Resolution 114, issued on May 6, 2021, needs repeating. The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases issued the resolution as a guideline for inbound OFWs and ROFs. It was government’s response amid a dismal scenario in India where stronger variants of Covid-19 were identified. The variant that caught much attention was B.1.617, which was found in large percentage among the fatalities in not a few provinces in India. The variant also spread widely in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

While the travel ban was in effect for areas under heightened quarantine, the IATF found it necessary to set another layer of protection in our ports of entry, most especially from those abroad, and thus, the 14-day isolation, 10 days of which in a quarantine facility and the remaining four days in the traveller’s final destination. A bit earlier, government retained a more relaxed protocol for inbound travel, except those from India before Resolution 114 was issued.

The resolution was specific about the Day 7 swab, for reasons that if a traveler was exposed to the virus in transit, arrival day should be counted as Day 1, around which the virus, in its incubation stage, can’t be detected yet by a swab test. This is also from the presumption that the traveller was required to undergo a test before taking the flight.

To recall, early in May, the Department of Health (DOH) detected the B.1.617 variant in one of the passengers that arrived from India. The protocol saw how porous our boundaries were, and the weakest link was our ports of entry. Thus, again, Resolution 114.

So where are we after the Philippines’ first case of the variant first detected in India?

We now have 2,494 cases with “variants of concern/interest” in the Philippines: 1,071 B.1.1.7; 1,246 B.1.351; 13 B.1.617.2; 162 P.3 and two P.1 cases, according to the University of the Philippines-Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC). As of May 31, 2021, 246 new cases with variants of concern were detected.

We need not look far on how variants could just as easily wipe out one’s earned optimism while the economy reopens. Vietnam recently detected a hybrid variant that showed sequences from the variants detected in India and the UK. Although the country had for the most part done fairly well in its management of the health crisis, the variant caught it off-guard, seeing a wave of new infections since April, which accounted for more than half of its 6,856 recorded cases.

While intentions to balance the economy and public health concerns is nothing but ideal, there are lessons to be learned. It is easy to fall into the trap of medical populism, most especially when rigid policies stir up the populace and reduce everything into a partisan game.

So science, it is. That should determine our policies to the very core. We are facing a pandemic, it simply cannot be fought at the public relations front. Imagine the cost of a new wave scenario, and consider our protocols as part of our investment to the economy. Oftentimes, the right decisions are counter-intuitive.

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