Mindanao, Philippines – They gathered shoulder to shoulder, many without a mask, shouting in unison to welcome the 2020 Christmas season“But the coronavirus wave that the doctors warned about did not happen.
Then, when restrictions eased slightly in January, residents in the southern Philippines closed, moving to beaches and highland parks.
Again, there was no jump in cases, with some questioning whether the epidemic was real or “just a money-making enterprise.”
When the summer of the Philippines came in March, many were so confident that they gathered in the public halls of cities, small towns, to raise state aid, ignoring social distance restrictions, and enjoying the free lunch distributed by elected officials.
Some mayors even allowed cockroaches to reopen for gambling and mass gatherings. Several Catholic priests also gently encouraged the parishioners to attend Sunday services in person, although church attendance was limited to a maximum of half capacity.
In agricultural communities, fishing villages resumed their usual habits of walking with friends, walking around, or playing basketball and billiards, mostly in disguise.
When the fiesta season arrived in April-May, many dined for family and friends to visit, despite bans, threats of arrest, and other sanctions. Celebrating their patron saint in each town and village, the fun ceremony was repeated in the nearby communities of the region.
Health officials and police, usually from the same neighborhood, looked different as drinks passed through street corners, with people banding their favorite karaoke tunes as if The second wave of coronavirus was far from space in Manila and other urban areas.
Inevitably, the cases started to grow. At first slowly, then in the cascade, which is not slowing down yet. A sign, according to experts, that the epidemic has penetrated deeply into rural communities, where health facilities are already facing excessive power.
“This is not isolated in Visayas և Mindanao,” said Peter Keaton, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines School of Statistics.
“The rise also affects many states in Luzon,” he told Alazeira Azira, referring to groups of the country’s three largest islands.
According to the latest data from the Philippines’ Vaccine Search, only 1.5 percent of the 110 million people in the Philippines have been fully vaccinated against the virus, and government liaison officers have been unable to catch new cases. Hospitals are already capable, և medical resources are scarce.
More than 7,400 new cases were reported nationwide on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 1.29 million.
Increasing cases lead to more deaths, և southern regions are suffering more and more.
Edson Guido, a data analyst at the University of the Philippines, said that as of June 7, a quarter of all new cases were registered in Mindanao, higher than in the Manila metro, indicating that the epidemic had spread to areas far from the capital. ,
Min is a plus sign
In Dipolog, a town on the southern island of Mindanao, residents noted how serious the situation was when two high-ranking Catholic nuns died within days of each other in late May. They were hastily buried without the usual elaborate rituals. Another high priest is in quarantine trying to recover from an illness.
The former mayor and his brother from a neighboring town were also admitted to a government hospital in the same town, as dozens of people were treated outside the coronavirus in makeshift tents or tied to oxygen tanks while sitting in their cars due to a lack of hospital beds. A 37-year-old patient died the same day her family found out she had COVID-19.
At the same time, hundreds of other patients with mild infections or no symptoms at all were advised to quarantine at home.
“COVID is real in our state,” wrote on social media PHILIP LAMSI, the doctor of the only hospital in the city, which is fully equipped against COVID.
“Please, let’s help reduce the cases. “There are no more rooms, the supply of oxygen tanks is short,” he said.
Dozens of local government officials were infected in the nearby town of Polanco, forcing the city hall to close.
The city government faced some questions after it allowed mass gatherings of hundreds of farmers, including motorcyclists, to receive food aid and food boxes despite the blockade.
A senior city health official, Dr. Patricia Quema, agreed to answer questions from Al Jazeera about the epidemic, but later ignored further requests to send her back.
According to the Department of Health, by the third week of May, the city and its vast state, Am Ambanga del Norte, had already announced that their intensive care beds were full and there was no more breathing space.
The region saw more young people, about 16 years old, hospitalized, forcing officials to declare a two-week blockade from June 1.
The order also includes a ban on alcohol consumption throughout the region. But on Wednesday, some people were still seen drinking on the side of the road, drinking from one glass to another.
Citing his busy schedule, Dr. Esmeralda Nadela, chief health officer at Zamboanga del Norte, said he would be able to answer Al Azé Azira’s questions “next time”.
“Have a good rest, mom”
Among those exposed to COVID was Rosalina Okupen, a former elementary school teacher who returned to her hometown of Polanco after spending her retirement years in Chicago, USA.
As a vulnerable elderly man, he was careful not to go out with the spread of the epidemic. But in early May, shortly after her 79th birthday, she fell ill after a housewife’s assistant fell ill. He spent three weeks at the Dipolog Hospital on a ventilator.
His daughter, Patty, hoped her mother would recover and that she would be home in a few days. Instead, the family received the news on Wednesday that their mother had died.
“Take it easy, Mom,” Patty wrote in tribute to her mother, whose body was hurriedly buried after sunset on Wednesday, abandoning a traditional Philippine rite before waking up for nine days.
Petty’s older sister, Marichu, who lives in Chicago, was unable to return home due to travel restrictions. After his mother died, he wondered if he could do more for his mother.
“Did I do enough?” [her] Who prayed day and night for me to succeed? This question will always be [left] unanswered. “
Randy, their brother, is deprived.
«[It is] “It’s sad, painful and very unfair that COVID took his life,” he told Al Jazeera.
The diplomat is not even the worst hit in the provinces.
Dumaguete, near Visayas, saw a 206 percent increase in infections between May 31 and June 6, making it the number one city on the list of cities with the national coronavirus.
The latest casualties in the university city include a retired judge whose wife is also currently battling the disease, and Alan Cordova, the city’s deputy mayor, who died of a heart attack while riding a bicycle a few days after recovering from the coronavirus.
In an interview with reporters on Monday, Dr. Kenneth Quo, a Dumaguet resident doctor and national president of crisis management at the College of Physicians of the Philippines, said that even if the city closed its doors to foreigners in response to the wave, there was already a “Community Transfer.”
“The most important thing is that we must isolate the danger,” he said, warning that all hospitals in Dumaguet were on the brink of flooding, noting that the latest infections in the city were found during dinners with family and friends.
“No party, please. No mass gatherings, please, this is my request to the community. ”
Several cities in Mindanao have also been hit by earthquakes, such as South Cotabato, General Santos, and Davao City, where Duterte has been mayor for more than 20 years. The latest casualty was Duglas Kagas, governor of Davao del Sur, who died on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the OCTA research team following the coronavirus outbreak in the Philippines said the national government should consider sending equipment to Mindanao health workers.
OCTA Ranjit Rye warned that if the tide continued, hospitals could be overcrowded.
“Our appeal to the national government is to allow us to deploy people, equipment and support to those areas,” Rye said, adding that the wave could last a month.
As for provincial doctor’s breathing specialist Lims, he urged people to stay at home, adding: “Your birthday was not worthy of the suffering your visitors could have endured [if they are infected with COVID]»