Mindanao, Philippines – They gathered side by side, many of them did not wear masks, Cheers in unison to welcome the 2020 Christmas seasonBut the coronavirus wave that doctors warned about did not happen.
Then, as the restrictions eased slightly in January, residents of the southern Philippines exhausted by the lockdown began to head to the nearby waterfront and highland parks.
Similarly, there has not been a surge in cases, and some people are beginning to question whether the epidemic is real or “just a profitable adventure.”
With the arrival of the Philippine summer in March, many people are confident enough to crowd public auditoriums in towns and small cities to receive government assistance, ignoring social distancing restrictions and enjoying free lunches distributed by elected officials.
Some mayors even allowed the reopening of the cockfighting ring, which is a place that attracts gambling and mass gatherings. Some Catholic priests also cleverly encouraged the residents of the parish to attend Sunday Mass in person, although the church attendance can only be half of the usual.
In agricultural communities and fishing villages, residents have regained their usual habits — hanging out with friends, walking nearby or playing basketball and billiards — mostly without wearing masks.
By the festive season in April and May, despite the injunctions and threats of arrest and other punishments, many people are still hosting dinner parties for visiting relatives and friends. As each town and village celebrates their own patron saint, the close community in the area repeats this joy.
Health officials and police officers usually come from the same area. When drinks come from the corner and people chanting their favorite karaoke tunes, they look in the other direction, as if The second wave of coronavirus in Manila and other urban areas is beyond the universe.
Experts say that cases will inevitably begin to rise-first slowly, then cascading, but still not slowing down-indicating that the pandemic has deeply rooted in rural communities, where sanitation facilities are already facing overcapacity. problem.
“This is not isolated in Visayas and Mindanao,” said Peter Katon, an associate professor at the School of Statistics at the University of the Philippines.
“The surge has also affected many Luzon provinces,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to the country’s three main island groups.
According to the latest data from the Philippine Vaccine Tracking Agency, only about 1.5% of the 110 million people in the Philippines are vaccinated against the virus, and government contact tracers cannot keep up with the surge in new cases. The hospital is fully loaded and medical resources are in short supply.
Nationwide, more than 7,400 new cases were reported on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 1.29 million.
The rising number of cases heralds more deaths, and the southern region is hit harder and harder.
Edson Guido, a data analysis expert at the University of the Philippines, pointed out that as of June 7, Mindanao accounted for a quarter of new cases, higher than Metro Manila, indicating that the pandemic has moved to areas far away from the metropolitan area.
In Dipolog, a city on the southern island of Mindanao, when two senior members of the Catholic clergy and a nun died within a few days in late May, local residents learned how serious the situation had become. They were buried in a hurry without the usual elaborate rituals. Another senior priest is in isolation, trying to recover from the illness.
A former mayor and his brother from a nearby town were also admitted to a government hospital in the same city because dozens of people were treated for coronavirus in makeshift tents outside or connected to oxygen tanks while sitting in the car. It is the lack of hospital beds. A 37-year-old patient died on 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.
Philip Limsi, a doctor at the city’s only fully equipped hospital, wrote on social media: “The COVID is real and it is wandering around our province.”
“Please let us help reduce the number of cases. Without more rooms, the supply of oxygen tanks is almost running out,” he said.
In the nearby town of Polanco, dozens of local government employees were infected, forcing the city hall operation to be blocked.
Despite the lockdown, the town’s leadership has allowed hundreds of farmers and motorcyclists to gather for large-scale gatherings to obtain government financial assistance and food parcels, thus facing some problems.
The town’s top health officer, Dr. Patrisha Quema, agreed to answer Al Jazeera’s questions about the pandemic, but later ignored a follow-up request to send her response back.
According to data from the Ministry of Health, as early as the third week of May, the city and its northern province of Zamboanga City had reported that its intensive care beds were full and there were no ventilators.
The province also saw more young people (some as young as 16) hospitalized, prompting officials to announce a strict two-week lockdown starting June 1.
The order also includes a ban on public drinking throughout the province. But on Wednesday, some people still saw someone sharing wine on the side of the road, drinking a shared small wine glass.
Dr. Esmeralda Nadela, a senior health officer in Zamboanga del Norte, said she has a busy schedule due to the surge in cases. She said she can only answer Al Jazeera’s questions “next time”.
‘Get a good rest, mother’
Among those who died of COVID is Rosalina Ocupe, a former elementary school teacher, who returned to her hometown of Polanco after spending her retirement years in Chicago.
As a fragile elderly, as the pandemic spreads, she has been careful not to go out. But shortly after her 79th birthday in early May, a domestic helper fell ill. She spent three weeks on a ventilator in Dipolog’s hospital.
Her daughter Patty hopes that her mother will recover and she will be able to go home in a few days. Instead, the family received news of their mother’s death on Wednesday.
“Rest in peace, mother,” Patty wrote in mourning her mother, whose body was hurriedly buried after sunset on Wednesday, giving up the traditional nine-day awakening ceremony in the Philippines.
Patty’s sister Marichu who lives in Chicago cannot go home due to travel restrictions. With the death of her mother, she has been wondering whether she can do more for her mother.
“I have done enough [her] Who prays for my success day and night?This question will always be [left] No one heard. “
Their brother Randy lost his life.
“[It is] COVID took her life, which is sad, painful and very unfair,” he told Al Jazeera.
Dipolog is not even the worst-hit area among the provincial regions.
Between May 31 and June 6, the number of infections in Dumaguete near the Visayas increased by 206%, making it one of the top cities in the country facing a surge in coronavirus.
The recent death toll in the university city includes a retired judge whose wife is currently battling the disease, and the city’s deputy mayor, Alan Cordova, who is recovering from the coronavirus. A few days later, he suffered a cardiac arrest and died while riding a bicycle.
In an interview with reporters on Monday, Dr. Kenneth Coo, a doctor in Dumaguete and the national chair of crisis management of the Philippine College of Physicians, said that even if the city closes its doors to the outside world in response to the surge, there are already “communities spread”.
“The most important thing is that we must isolate the danger,” he warned that all hospitals in Dumaguete were operating at full capacity, while noting that the city’s latest case of infection could be traced to a dinner with family and friends.
“Please don’t go to parties. Please don’t hold mass gatherings. This is my requirement of the community.”
Several cities in Mindanao are also facing population surges, such as South Cotabato, General Santos, and Davao City where Duterte has served as mayor for more than 20 years. The most recent death toll includes Douglas Cagas, the governor of Davao South, who died on Thursday.
At a press conference on Wednesday, the OCTA research team tracking the coronavirus cases in the Philippines stated that the national government should consider sending health workers and equipment to Mindanao.
Ranjit Rye of OCTA warned that if the surge continues, the hospital may be overwhelmed.
“Our appeal to the central government is for us to deploy personnel, equipment and support to these areas,” Rai said, adding that the surge may continue for a month.
As for the provincial doctor and respiratory expert Lin Xi, he called on people to stay home and added: “Your birthday party is not worth the pain your visitors face. [if they are infected with COVID]. “
At the same time, Kayton of the University of the Philippines said that whether the Philippines will see a spiraling increase in infections and a slowdown depends on the government’s ability to implement contact tracing, testing, vaccination, and treatment.
He said that so far, there are still not enough signs that the government is doing this.