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Friday, July 19, 2024

Ready for the ‘pandemic exit’?

“If there is anything more contagious than the coronavirus itself, it is the rampant misinformation and disinformation.”

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This week marks the start of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. As we look back, the past two years have had their share of surges and letups. The emergence of two highly transmissible variants―Delta and Omicron―tested the efficacy of our COVID-19 response. The trends have also become fairly predictable, as we have seen when the Omicron entered the country during the holidays. With more than half of the population vaccinated, the Omicron surge produced mostly mild cases.

With these developments, many surmise that Omicron marks the end of the pandemic. We truly hope the same. However, we take into consideration that the mild cases are attributed to the COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, the unvaccinated population remains prone to becoming critically ill once afflicted with COVID-19.

As daily cases in the country decline again, the question to ask is, is it right to take the road now to “pandemic exit”? Are we ready to treat this virus as endemic?

Health experts may be in a better position to tell. However, what is clear today is that there is a lot that needs to be improved as we prepare to slowly exit from the pandemic. For one, vaccinations must continue until everyone else is protected. This means that the information drive against vaccine hesitancy must be expanded in order to reach all corners and islands of the country. Pediatric vaccination should be commenced in all regions and provinces as soon as we can. Booster vaccination should also be made easily available most especially to the vulnerable population. All of this implies the need to secure continuous supply of COVID-19 vaccines to meet the country’s demands.

Second, hospitals and health facilities must be equipped and primed in cases of surge. We need to reduce attrition in hospitals by giving health care workers their well-deserved pay. Likewise, we need to encourage more health professionals to work for our hospitals by ensuring decent work environments and fair compensation. This includes ensuring adequate supply of PPEs and reasonable support to health workers who may get sick. We also need to boost genome surveillance capacity in order to detect presence or entry of any new variant and determine extent of transmission timely and promptly.

Lastly, we need to make sure that the public is well-informed. If there is anything more contagious than the coronavirus itself, it is the rampant misinformation and disinformation. The public needs to thoroughly understand the importance of constantly adhering to minimum public health standards as we transition from higher to lower alert levels. Public health protocols will definitely remain as long as COVID-19 persists.

What is important is that we need to learn to live with the virus. As I said before, it is time to consider the likelihood of COVID-19 to stay for long. We need to transition and prepare for the new normal. The past two years made significant, deep, and extensive dents in many aspects of our lives. Economically, many of us may no longer have the capacity to endure the restrictive conditions posed by the pandemic. Socially, many of us long to return to pre-pandemic normal, perhaps to keep our sanity.

Eventually, we will really have to strike a balance between COVID-19 risks and our need to return to normal. Hence, I urge the government to come up with evidence-based plans and policies that must accompany the eased restrictions. Meanwhile, I strongly urge the public to be more cautious of information circulating and live more prudently. The risks of COVID-19 still looms despite the dropping of cases. I believe that we can overcome this pandemic by aligning our mindset towards disease prevention and health promotion. This is not impossible. Practicing conscientiousness is key.

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