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Remote Philippines addresses cost for ignoring COVID warnings



Remote Philippines addresses cost for ignoring COVID warnings. They gathered shoulder to shoulder, many without masks, yelling in unison to welcome 2020’s Christmas season. But the coronavirus wave that doctors had warned about didn’t happen.

Then as restrictions were eased slightly in January, lockdown exhausted residents in the southern Philippines, started heading to nearby seafronts and highland parks.

Once more, there was no spike in cases and some began to question whether the pandemic was real or “just a money-production venture”.

As the Philippine summer arrived in March, many were confident enough to pack public halls across towns and small cities to collect government aid, ignoring social distancing restrictions and appreciating the free lunch distributed by elected officials.

Some mayors even allowed the reopening of cockfighting arenas, a magnet for gambling and mass gatherings. A couple of Catholic priests also subtly encouraged parishioners to attend Sunday masses in person, despite church attendance being limited to a maximum of half the usual capacity.

In farming communities and fishing villages, residents resumed their usual habits – spending time with friends, strolling around the neighborhood or playing basketball and billiards – mostly maskless.

By the time fiesta season arrived in April and May, many were also hosting suppers for visiting family and friends despite a ban and the threat of arrest and other penalties. With each town and village celebrating their own patron saint, the fun was repeated throughout the region’s close-knit communities.

Health officials and police, usually from a similar district, looked the other route as beverages were passed around at street corners and people belted out their favorite karaoke tunes, as though the second coronavirus wave in Manila and other urban areas were a universe away.

Inevitably cases began to rise – first slowly, then in a cascade, which is still not slowing down – a sign, experts said, that the pandemic has become deeply embedded in country communities where health facilities are already facing overcapacity.

“This isn’t isolated in Visayas and Mindanao provinces,” said Peter Cayton, an associate professor at the University of the Philippines School of Statistics.

“The surge is affecting many Luzon provinces, also,” he told Al Jazeera referring to the country’s three significant island groups.

Only about 1.5 percent of the Philippines’ 110 million people are completely vaccinated against the virus, according to the latest data from the Philippine Vaccine Tracker, and government contact-tracers are unable to catch up with the detonating number of new cases. Hospitals are already at capacity and medical resources in short supply.

Nationwide, more than 7,400 new cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 1.29 million.

Rising cases presage more deaths, and the southern regions have been increasingly hard hit.

Edson Guido, a data analytics expert from the University of the Philippines, noted that as of June 7, Mindanao accounted for a quarter of new cases, higher than Metro Manila, showing that the pandemic has shifted to the regions far outside of the metropolitan areas.

Ominous sign

In Dipolog, a city on the southern island of Mindanao, residents got an indication of how serious the situation had become when two senior members of the Catholic ministry and a nun died within days of each other in late May. They were hastily buried without the usual elaborate rites. Another senior priest is in quarantine, trying to recover from the ailment.

A former mayor and his brother from a nearby town were also admitted at a government hospital in a similar city, as many people were being treated for coronavirus outside in makeshift tents, or hooked up to oxygen tanks while sitting in their vehicles, because of the lack of hospital beds. One 37-year-old patient died around the same time her family discovered she had COVID-19.

Hundreds of other patients with mild infections, or no symptoms at all, were in the interim advised to quarantine at home.

“COVID is real and wandering around our province,” Philip Limsi, a doctor at the city’s only hospital completely equipped against COVID, wrote on social media.

“If it’s not too much trouble, let us help bring down the cases. There are no more rooms and the supply of oxygen tanks are running short,” he said.

In the nearby town of Polanco, many local government employees were infected, forcing a lockdown of town hall operations.

The town’s leadership faced some questions after it allowed a mass gathering of hundreds of farmers and motorcycle drivers to receive government financial aid and food packs despite a lockdown.

The town’s top health official, Dr Patrisha Quema, agreed to respond to questions from Al Jazeera regarding the pandemic, but later ignored follow-up requests to send back her response.

As right on time as the third seven day stretch of May, the city and its greater province of Zamboanga del Norte had already reported that its intensive care beds were full and that had no more respirators, according to the Department of Health data.

The province also saw more younger people – some just 16 years old – being hospitalized, prompting officials to declare a strict two-week lockdown from June 1.

The order also includes a ban on the public consumption of alcohol throughout the province. But on Wednesday, some people were still seen sharing alcohol and drinking from a single, shared shot glass by the side of the road.

Citing her busy schedule because of the surge in cases, Zamboanga del Norte’s top health official, Dr Esmeralda Nadela said she would only be able to address Al Jazeera’s questions “next time”.


Covid-19 Delta variant cases jump by 33,630 of every multi week in UK, now make up 99% of country’s cases



The number of Delta variant infections has jumped by 33,630 in seven days to hit a total of 75,953 in the UK, with the highly transmissible variant first identified in India now making up 99 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in the country, health officials said on Friday.

Public Health England (PHE), which has been tracking variant of concerns (VOCs) on a weekly basis, said its data shows an increased risk of hospitalization with Delta VOC compared to Alpha the VOC first detected in the Kent region of England.

It also pointed to its previous discoveries that two portions of a Covid vaccine gives a “high degree of protection” against hospitalization from the Delta variant.

“PHE’s weekly Covid-19 variant cases data show that numbers of the Delta variant in the UK have ascended by 33,630 since last week to a total of 75,953,” PHE reports.

INCREASED RISK OF Hospitalization

“The most recent data show 99 per cent of sequenced and genotyped cases across the country are the Delta variant. Data show an increased risk of hospitalization with Delta compared to Alpha, although PHE’s analysis shows that two dosages of vaccine gives a high degree of protection against hospitalization, estimated to be more than 90 per cent,” it said.

According to the analysis, as of June 14, a total of 806 people have been hospitalized with the Delta variant, an increase of 423 since last week. Of these, 527 were unvaccinated, and only 84 of the 806 had received both portions.

It finds that deaths are not high, as the case fatality rate remains low for Delta.

Notwithstanding, it points out that deaths tend to happen some weeks after an infection and it is therefore too ahead of schedule to judge the case fatality of Delta compared to Alpha or other VOCs.


“Cases are rising quickly across the country and the Delta variant is now dominant,” said Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

“The increase is fundamentally in younger age groups, a large proportion of which were unvaccinated but are now being invited to receive the vaccine. It is urging to see that hospitalisations and deaths are not increasing at a similar rate but we will continue to monitor it closely,” she said.

“The vaccination program and the care that we are generally taking to follow the direction are continuing to save lives. If it’s not too much trouble, ensure that you approach to receive both portions of the vaccine when you are eligible. Don’t drop your gatekeeper practice ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ at all times,” she added.

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Israel says it will transfer around 1 million dosages of soon-to-expire coronavirus vaccine portions to the Palestinian Authority.



Under the agreement announced Friday, the PA will transfer portions to Israel once it receives them from an UN-backed program to supply vaccines to needy countries.

Israel, which has vaccinated some 85 per cent of its adult population, has faced criticism for not imparting its vaccines to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The agreement was announced by the new Israeli government that was sworn in on Sunday.

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Global failure to share vaccines equitably impacting world’s most vulnerable countries: WHO



The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said that “global failure to share vaccines equitably” is fuelling a “two-track” Covid-19 pandemic, impacting some of world’s most vulnerable countries.

Taking up the issue of global disparities in distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, WHO said that countries like India and Nepal have suffered because of less dosages of the vaccine.

“Our global targets are to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, at least 40 per cent by the end of the year, and 70 per cent by the center of next year. These are the critical milestones we must reach together to end the Covid-19 pandemic,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

He went on to say that more than half of all high upper-center pay countries and economies have by now administered enough dosages to completely vaccinate at least 20 per cent of their populations, while just three out of 79 low-and lower-center pay countries have reached a similar level.

Earlier this week, the Group of Seven leaders (G-7) intend to end their first summit in two years with a punchy set of promises Sunday, including vaccinating the world against coronavirus.

The G-7 vowed to share vaccine dosages with less well-off nations that urgently need them. UK PM Boris Johnson said the group would pledge at least 1 billion dosages, with half of that coming from the United States and 100 million from Britain.

While WHO Director-General Tedros commended the vaccine pledge, he also said that it was “not enough”.

To truly end the pandemic, he said, 11 billion dosages are needed to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the world’s population by mid-2022.

“We need more and we need them faster,” Tedros said.

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