Cover In the Philippines, COVID-19 cases are at an all time high (Photo: Anastasiia Chepinska/Unsplash)

Omicron, the more contagious strain of COVID-19 is said to be the culprit behind the spike of cases at the onset of 2022. Some argue that it can act as a ‘path to herd immunity,’ but others beg to differ

At this point of the outbreak, your peers, their cousins, or the family who lives next door have probably caught flu-like symptoms of COVID-19. In the Philippines, the cases are at an all-time high and people can only blame the disease’s latest and more contagious variant Omicron.

It's easy to point fingers at 'Tita Jennie' who attended all sorts of gatherings during the holidays, we look to our friend, 'Jim', who went out of town to hike for the first time in years, or perhaps anybody whose Instagram or Facebook stories looked lively in the past few weeks . . . While these trigger-happy feelings are valid, the people who received our rage-fueled stinky eyes have become the unfortunate scapegoat of the inevitable downsides brought by the unfolding global health crisis. 

Almost two years into this ordeal, many Filipinos are still clamouring for free and accessible mass testing and a more reliable contact tracing. As other countries heighten their quarantine protocols, ours have opened theme parks, bars, and borders.

In case you missed it: COVID-19 Omicron Variant: Here's Everything You Need to Know

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Almost two years into the on and off COVID-19 lockdowns, Filipinos are still clamouring for free and accessible mass testing and a more reliable contact tracing. (Photo: Mulyadi/Unsplash)
Above Almost two years into the on and off COVID-19 lockdowns, Filipinos are still clamouring for free and accessible mass testing and a more reliable contact tracing. (Photo: Mulyadi/Unsplash)

On social media, the name Gwyneth Chua even topped the trending topics for days. The story goes that Chua escaped her supposed five-day quarantine to party in Poblacion, Makati. Her RT-PCR test came back positive a day after she went out.

In a radio interview, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat revealed that the agency received complaints from people who contracted the virus after rubbing shoulders with Chua.

“We received a number of signed affidavits because they themselves caught COVID-19. And the woman was proud to say that she has connections. The bad thing about all of this was that she tested positive on the fifth day and those who were with her also tested positive.”

The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed charges against Chua for violating Republic Act No 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. 

The police have utilised section 1 (g) (III) of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations which prohibits the following: 

  • (iii) Failure to comply with a quarantine/ isolation order or directive duly issued by a public health authority
  • (iv) Violation of any terms or conditions of the quarantine or isolation order or directive issued by a public health authority

Chua’s case highlighted the disparities between the Philippines’ privileged and connected... and, well, everyone else. It seems like we're all sailing through the same rough sea, but not on the same boat. 

The unfortunate and infuriating Poblacion fiasco entitles all of us to bark all day on social media, but while her actions are—for the lack of a better word—downright reckless, we might fail to see other people and agencies who are equally accountable for this surge.

Amidst this catastrophic series of events, we ask: where were all these efforts and energy when high-profile cases of quarantine breaches happened in the first few months of 2020? Is Chua alone in doing such violation or she’s just one of the many people who practise this type of negligence under the authorities’ noses?

See also: Omicron Fact Check: Do Viruses Become Less Deadly To Survive?

Is Omicron really ‘the start of the end’?

Media agencies today are filled with headlines about Omicron surge being the 'pandemic’s end'. Some researchers claim that the new strain could hasten the virus’ transition from a pandemic to endemic albeit with large numbers of illnesses and potential deaths along the way. Omicron’s high rate of transmission could potentially increase the number of survivors who will emerge with a degree of so-called “natural immunity.” And because the variant’s symptoms are mild, hospitalisation rates would remain ‘maintainable.’

However, this is nothing more but wishful thinking for medical frontliners in the Philippines. On January 5, 2022, the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the country’s main hospital for COVID-19, saw six times more admissions in a span of 10 days. 

Meanwhile, a fellow at the independent monitoring group OCTA Research said that hospital bed occupancy for COVID-19 patients is “increasing at a faster rate” than the occupancy in intensive care units in Metro Manila hospitals.

More from Tatler: Despite Omicron, Why Aren't RT-PCR Tests Free in the Philippines This 2022?

According to Dr Guido David, hospital bed occupancy in the National Capital Region (NCR) increased to 29 per cent on January 2 from the 17 per cent recorded on December 26, 2021.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), for its part, said that it has yet to gather enough data to say that Omicron symptoms are indeed milder than the earlier feared Delta strain. "We have not seen this variant circulate long enough in populations around the world, certainly in vulnerable populations,” clarified WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkovhe.

Many of us are fed up with our 'COVID-interrupted' lives and it's becoming more and more difficult to trust the information coming at us from all sides. While we can't be certain if Omicron is truly 'the beginning of the end', it's surely 'not just another COVID-19 variant' - its high positivity rate has opened new dialogues and challenges for citizens but most especially health workers who have always been at the frontlines of this global crisis.

Related: COVID-19 Anniversary: Are You Experiencing Pandemic Fatigue?

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