Nalzaro: We are not ready

IT IS very evident and very lamentable that the Philippines is not yet ready and is grappling in its handling of a public health crisis, such as the 2029 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) outbreak. The country already has its hands full with other ordinary diseases, such as dengue, measles or the return of polio.

We have been fighting dengue and measles, but our government have had a hard time containing the diseases based on the number of cases reported by the Department of Health (DOH) nationwide. This, despite the massive anti-dengue campaign launched by our health officials.

On the coronavirus, our officials panicked and had set no clear direction and policies on how to handle it when it was reported that it had infected several people in China and had spread in other countries, including the Philippines.

When it surfaced and while other countries had already come up with a decisive stand to avoid the spread of the disease in their territory, our health officials were still cramming on what to do. They were hesitant to impose a travel ban on Chinese nationals in the country because of possible foreign and diplomatic repercussions. The move would also hurt our economy, especially our tourism industry. The action of our government in imposing a ban on Chinese nationals was too late. The disease was already spreading in the country with our first reported case and fatality coming from China. We don’t know if there are already Filipinos being infected with the disease, especially the people with whom those confirmed cases interacted with when they arrived here.

Our local government units, with their limited resources, tried to help contain the disease. They came up with measures like putting up quarantine facilities for those Filipinos and Philippine government visa holders coming back here for 14 incubation days. But what kind of facilities? They are housed in ill-equipped facilities as if they are calamity victims. We are compounded with insufficient health care infrastructure, which are causing a public health crisis. In France, those quarantined were placed in a beach resort with all the amenities and support provided by their government.

When the Cebu City Government conducted a simulation exercise or drill on how to handle an 2019-nCoV patient, their responders were just wearing raincoats and ordinary clothes covered their faces. As if they were rescuing flood and fire victims. They looked funny. Why? Because we don’t have protective gears to protect medical workers and responders from being infected with the disease.

In Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that they are ready addressing the problem because they learned from their experience when the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) hit other Asean countries almost two decades ago. That should have been the same preparations undertaken by our health authorities. We also experienced Sars, which is practically the same as a coronavirus. But let this situation be a learning experience for our government officials so that the next time we will be hit and confronted with a similar problem we will be ready to cope with the situation.


A street named after the late philanthropist and businessman Edgar Cokaliong was unveiled Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020. The street is located in front of Robinsons Galleria at the North Reclamation Area. Present in the momentous affair were some local officials, friends, relatives and business associates of the Cokaliong family, headed by their matriarch Gregoria and son, shipping magnate Chester.

The late Edgar was into the textile business. He died on Dec. 11, 1989 from cancer. He was 55. Chester, the eldest son, succeeded his father’s role in their family business. In the ‘80s, Chester founded Cokaliong Shipping Lines, the biggest shipping company plying regional routes in Visayas and Mindanao. In honor of his philanthropic work, Edgar Cokaliong Foundation Inc. was put up by his family, which offers a scholarship program for poor but deserving students, extend donations to victims of earthquakes, typhoons and hospitalization and medical needs for the sickly and needy. When Surigao was hit by a strong earthquake a few years ago, the foundation donated some P500,000 to the City and the Surigao Provincial Government, respectively. The foundation also enrolled several scholars in various colleges in the city.


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