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BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews) – “The victims of Covid are getting closer to my circle.” Reading this post by a friend on Facebook made me realize that a year and a half onward, we have stepped no farther from the threat of this pandemic.

 And last weekend, the shocking news of the death of a friend in Davao city – Pidot Villocino-  only cemented our fears and doubts that the government has not done enough to stop or prevent the deaths and infections.

 “Why Pidot of all people?”, I remember thinking while reading the posts on his death last Sunday. Pidot who was so generous with his money, time and talents that he was fondly called “mama” all around; Pidot, the entertainer of any gathering with his big laugh and outrageous wit; but also Pidot, the determined activist leader of LGBTQ+ and political rights?

 Just weeks ago, a big blow came as Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado Jr., OMI, a stalwart of interreligious dialogue and peace talks in Mindanao, succumbed to cardiac arrest, weeks  after battling the disease and even after testing negative for the virus that causes it.

But my incredulity is pushed back by all of the facts that are available on the internet. Covid-19 cases had been rising across the six regions of Mindanao since March, with total cases in the island breaching the 100,000 mark in the month of May. Across Mindanao, healthcare systems were being overwhelmed as hospitals and treatment and monitoring facilities reported full or near-full capacity. And cities and entire provinces remain under various levels of imposed quarantine.

So we ask with desperation, where are the vaccines and why is the vaccine rollout still considered slow?

IBON, an NGO think tank, describes vaccination in the country as still “snail-paced” with only 1.02 million fully vaccinated as of May 25, 2021; and only 145,243 vaccinations per day (7-day rolling average) versus 615,930 needed to reach target 70 million Filipinos by December 2021.

And the vaccines that have been delivered to date are just enough for 4.1 million Filipinos, added IBON in its Facebook post on current vaccination figures on June 3.

Is the goal of herd immunity turning out to be just a quixotic dream? asked a MindaNews columnist when commenting on the vaccination efforts in the National Capital Region-Plus bubble that had struggled with rising cases last month. Is Mindanao vaccination going the same way?

I can remember the shock I got last year when a beloved Surigaonon academic was reported among the first fatalities of Covid-19 in the Philippines. Both she and her husband – also a Surigaonon academic and finance consultant – had contracted the disease and were sent to the hospital but only the husband survived. Their marriage of 47 years was cut mercilessly by the virus.

 I can also remember the fear and panic that overtook Switzerland when Italy registered horrifyingly high deaths in the first wave of Covid-19 in Europe last year.

You could argue then that doctors and epidemiologists were still overwhelmed by the new virus. But a year and a half after, it is frustrating to read about continuing infections and still rising deaths. And it is true, Covid-19 is getting nearer to our circles.

It is heartbreaking to read or hear about friends and acquaintances getting sick and succumbing to Covid-19. But even more painful is the nagging suspicion that many of these deaths could have been prevented. Could some of the deaths have been needless?

If only the leaders had recognized the urgency of the medical emergency when it started last year, and used the first strict lockdowns to strengthen its health systems and responses. If only vaccine procurement and administration was fast-tracked, with a focus on effective diplomacy to secure adequate vaccine supply. If only the government had divined the economic effects of the lockdowns.

Aside from the problem of slow mass vaccination, more people are getting jobless and hungry. 

The Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy or iLEAD, a policy think tank that focuses on public finance and good governance, wrote in a polled report this month that the Filipinos’ other needs during this pandemic –  for food and cash aid – are low on the government’s priorities.

According to iLead, stimulus packages that should give massive economic relief to low-income households, disadvantaged workers, farmers and fisherfolk, among others, were thumbed down by economic managers who prefer to spend the 2021 budget and leftover funds from the two stimulus packages passed last year.

IBON has also monitored the dwindling amounts for aid and economic relief: P239.3 billion for Bayanihan 1; going down to P22.8 billion for Bayanihan 2; and only P18.4 billion under the 2021 budget.

Where is the country going in fighting Covid and its disastrous effects? Like my friend on Facebook, I try not to succumb to the despair of seeing Covid-19 getting nearer to my circles.

(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps)

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