How Filipinos on Twitter reacted to IATF expert’s advice to ‘learn to live with the virus’

May 31, 2021 - 2:33 PM
A health worker transports an oxygen tank at a coronavirus disease (Covid-19) facility at Santa Ana Hospital, in Manila, Philippines,on April 9, 2021 (Reuters/Lisa Marie David)

While the country is still far from achieving its goal of having herd immunity from COVID-19, a government infectious diseases adviser said that people must “learn to live with the virus.”

Dr. Edsel Salvana, who is also a member of the health department’s technical advisory group, said lockdowns are “not long-term solutions” for slowing down the spread of the viral disease.

The government has been implementing different lockdown phases since March of last year to regulate the mobility of citizens and businesses throughout the country.

These range from the strictest phase; the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), to the most lenient; the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

Last year, Malacañang said the general community quarantine (GCQ) will be the “new normal” until vaccines against COVID-19 become available.

Now, GCQ has been further modified to be implemented in areas considered low-risk. This earned the term MGCG.

According to the omnibus guidelines by the Inter-Agency Task Force, “new normal” is defined as the “emerging behaviors, situations, and minimum public health standards that will be institutionalized in common or routine practices and remain even after the pandemic while the disease is not totally eradicated through means such as widespread immunization.”

The Philippines, however, is still far from its goal to achieve herd immunity by yearend. So far, it has inoculated only 5 million of its 108 million population.

“We’ve learned in the past that lockdowns slow down the spread of the disease but these are not long-term solutions. We need to learn to live with the virus,” Salvana said in CNN Philippines interview on Monday.

Only if government does its part, Twitter users argue

His comment drew the attention of some Filipinos on Twitter who argued that the government needed to do its part in implementing protocols that will enable them to “live with the virus.”

“If only you realized that ‘living with the virus’ = systemic and efficient solutions implemented by gov’t and not just (individual) health protocols,” a Twitter user said in response to Salvana’s remarks.

“We have been ‘learning to live’ for 14 months now. The question is, what will the NTF COVID-19 and the Health Department do in ensuring that our testing capacity increases, the vaccination rollout speeds up, and our vulnerable citizens are well-cared for,” another online user commented.

Statistician Peter Cayton, who is part of the UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team, likewise said that the government must “step up” in implementing protocols and preventive measures as a means to approach the outbreak.

“Gov’t must step up w/ tracing, testing, treatment & isolation, vaccination procurement, safety nets, and healthcare worker hiring & compensation. Gov’t is a big part of the solution & it’s not stepping up to the responsibility,” he tweeted in response to Salvana’s remark.

A Twitter user also raised a question to the physician:

“Point is, are we doing enough to mitigate the spread of the virus?” he tweeted.

“Paulit ulit na lang (‘yung) testing, tracing, isolation, hindi na ito ata nakikita dahil may mga bakuna na, even if mabagal and kulang pa din as of now,” the online user added.

At the beginning of March, Salvana also used the phrase in describing the COVID-19 situation post-Holiday Season.

“Thankfully [the surge] didn’t happen which tells me people are starting to learn to live with the virus,” he said in an online forum.

“Looking at what’s going on right now, the curve remains relatively flat, which makes me hopeful that we’re gonna be able to keep this trend until we get everyone vaccinated,” Salvana added.

ABS-CBN data analyst Edson Guido warned of a possible uptick on Sunday, based on the graph of the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases.

He recalled last year’s situation when cases were surging in August and then took note of the number of new cases for the past days.

“We can’t afford another surge at our current level of 6,000+ cases per day,” Guido tweeted.

Another Twitter user also took note of the increase towards the end of the graph which indicates a recent rise of cases.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, in a recent IATF meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte, suggested that the country should boost its local surveillance capacity to fortify its defenses against the pandemic and other future outbreaks.

He said this could be done by providing sufficient human resource and a modern information system, enhancing referral systems and strengthening financing mechanisms through PhilHealth and the General Appropriations Act for Filipinos to have affordable health services.

Duque also said that the country needs to build vaccine self-reliance. This means that a country is able to manufacture vaccines at home.

He likewise warned the public about complacency in following the health and safety protocols and claimed that surges usually happen due to non-adherence.