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Disaster in the Philippines: Seventeen Doctors Have Already Died


geri cleveland contributed this via– it’s titled “lampions” (Chinese lanterns) and it reminded me of the electron micrographs of the novel coronavirus.

The first case of COVID-19 in the Philippines was reported on January 30, in a 38 year-old Chinese woman in Manila.  She complained of a mild cough and had already recovered by the time test results were publicly announced.  The first death occurred on February 1: a 44 year-old Chinese man, the companion of the first woman.  He suffered from a co-infection with influenza and Streptococcus pneumoniae.  The third case, another Chinese woman, consulted a doctor for “fever and rhinitis” on January 22.  Testing was contradictory: a negative test on January 24 and a positive test on January 24.

That woman recovered and returned to China on January 31.  For reference, about 1.3% of Filipinos are Chinese, and a large but unknown proportion of the country can trace some of their ancestors to China.

According to Wikipedia, no further cases were reported for a month.  Two Filipinos were reported to be ill on March 6.  One had visited Japan and the other a Muslim prayer hall in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

As of this morning, 30,094 cases and 144 deaths are recorded in the Philippines.  Recorded cases have increased by ten times in the last fifteen days.  As in many other countries, these counts are seriously minimized for many reasons.  An unknown number of Filipinos have contracted and recovered or died from this disease.  The more tragic aspect of this pandemic in the Philippines is that 17 doctors (as of March 31) have died of COVID-19.

Prior to January 30, there were no labs in the country that could perform confirmatory tests for the virus.  On February 4, the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines Manila announced that they had developed a test using PCR (polymerase chain reaction), similar to tests made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and in the US.  The Department of Health (DOH) announced on March 25 that they were distributing 100,000 test kits to licensed facilities.

Now, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila and five “sub-national” labs are conducting testing for COVID-19 disease.  Thirty other labs are working on proficiency testing to qualify for clinical use (to diagnose patients).

The President of the Philippines announced a public health emergency on March 9.  Suspension of  in-person schooling and a partial quarantine for metropolitan Manila were declared shortly thereafter.  On March 17, the President declared “a state of calamity” for the next six months.   On March 25, he signed a sweeping order giving him unprecedented powers: he called this the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act”.  (For non-Filipinos, “Bayanihan” means the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal”.)

Some Philippine citizens have been repatriated from other countries and quarantined locally, but there have been multiple difficulties obtaining airplanes, permission to fly, pilots, and visas.

Numerous prominent Filipinos report having positive test results, including three incumbent Senators, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, the Interior Secretary, the former Prime Minister, and a number of actors and actresses.  At first, there was a public backlash because a number of politicians had been tested (and found positive) despite not having specific symptoms nor any travel history.  Now, there are a lot more tests available, but the average Filipino will still face barriers to testing including distance, travel time, cost, severity of symptoms, and possibly the biases of individual medical practicioners.

The stock market has entered “bear territory”, thousands of people have lost their jobs, and many entertainment events have been cancelled.  Tourism has been completely shut down, along with television shows; radio has been reduced to continuous news productions.  Even Cable News Network (CNN) Philippines was forced to shut down on March 16 after one of its employees tested positive.  DZMM Radyo Patrol (a 24 hour Filipino language news and talk radio station with a television arm) shut down on April 1 after their entire staff was forced into quarantine.  Their programming was replaced by a feed from ABS-CBN News Channel, an English-language pay TV station.

Food production and distribution has been damaged.  Restaurants have been closed except for delivery and take-out.  Delivery of fresh vegetables from the province of Benguet, which supplies 80% of the country’s greens, has been halted by quarantines.  Rice production has not been reduced because the latest harvest has come in, but imports of rice from Vietnam have stopped.  In normal times, the Philippines was the largest exporter of rice in the world, yet 25% of its consumption came from Vietnamese imports.  Zamboanga City, which supplies 85% of the country’s canned fish, has reduced its production by 50-60%.

Voter registration was suspended nationwide on March 10 until at least the end of April.  Apparently this process is quite different in the Philippines from the US.

On January 31, a travel ban on Chinese nationals coming from Hubei province was announced.  On March 22, the travel ban was extended to all foreign nationals.

Overall, the Philippines is undergoing a national disaster affecting all areas of its medical system, economy, and social life.  The situation there is similar to that in New York City, New Jersey, and Long Island, only with a local flavor.  All of the above information was obtained from Wikipedia, which has a long main article about the pandemic in the Philippines.


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