The safest bet | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

The safest bet

/ 05:30 AM December 06, 2020

Minors, stay out of malls and stay home.

This order was made by the Metro Manila Council, composed of the heads of 17 local governments in the National Capital Region, who unanimously agreed with the recommendation of pediatricians that the risk of acquiring COVID-19 “far [outweighs] the benefits” of allowing those 17 years old and below inside shopping malls this holiday season in a bid to boost economic activity. Aside from trips to the malls, minors are also banned from the traditional “Simbang Gabi” — the novena of Masses celebrated at dawn from Dec. 16 to 24 in preparation for Christmas, said Metropolitan Manila Development Authority general manager Jose Arturo Garcia Jr.

The clarification came two days after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año created confusion when he stated that children may soon be allowed to leave their homes, and go to the malls, under general community quarantine. The directive was met with caution, particularly from health experts who warned that children and young adults may be key to spreading the virus. It could even be fatal if they live with senior citizens and bring the virus home. “…[A]ng mga bata, though malalakas resistensya niyan, pwede magdala ng asymptomatic cases (Though children have a strong immune system, they can carry asymptomatic cases),” said health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon.

An updated guidance last month by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that 50 percent of coronavirus infections are spread by people who are asymptomatic; thus, wearing a face mask remains paramount to protect against respiratory droplets. In addition, recent studies have also debunked earlier theories that children are less susceptible to infection and transmission. One study conducted in India by the Princeton Environmental Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of California, the results of which were published last September, identified children and young adults as the key transmitters of the virus within households. “Kids are very efficient transmitters in this setting, which is something that hasn’t been firmly established in previous studies,” said lead researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan. Another study, published in The Harvard Gazette last August, observed 192 pediatric patients ranging from ages 0 to 22, and found that 49 were positive for COVID-19 while 18 were reported to have late-onset of COVID-19-related symptoms. Another finding: The level of the virus in the airways of the infected children was even higher compared to adults receiving COVID-19 treatments in ICUs.

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But it’s not only minors who can be superspreaders. Adults who disregard health protocols could spread the virus, too, like what happened in Subic, where a surge in infections last month was traced to employees who attended two parties where they did not wear face masks or observe physical distancing. The infected employees, reports said, were also not honest with their health declaration, and continued reporting for work, eventually exposing their co-workers.

Indoor spaces, such as offices, restaurants, malls, and airports where there is poor ventilation, which causes the virus exhaled by infected people to linger in the air, pose a bigger threat than contaminated surfaces, experts now say. The threat is even more immediate with the onset of the holiday season, with superspreaders potentially infecting large numbers of people in big shopping areas or even family reunions.

Last weekend, reports showed Divisoria crowded with shoppers who, while wearing face masks and shields, were not observing physical distancing. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno urged the public to cooperate with health protocols, and pleaded with vendors to be responsible: “Alam ko gusto niyong makatinda… malaki ang kinikita niyo ngayon… ngunit kailangan maging responsible rin kayong manininda.”

In Baguio City, the local government ordered the suspension of the night market, which reopened last Dec. 1, following lapses in crowd control. Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong also lamented how vendors forgot to help control the crowds. “We must strike a balance between reopening the economy and safeguarding the health and safety of the people,” he said.

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For now, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire’s advice for everyone is “to opt for online activities such as online Masses, make video calls with friends and relatives, and if possible, just shop online.” The World Health Organization also said the “safest bet” to avoid risking exposure to COVID-19, which has already killed 1.5 million globally, is for families to make the “difficult decision” of not getting together during the holidays.

The message remains clear, both for adults and minors: Unless it’s absolutely necessary, continue to stay home.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Editorial, physical distancing, quarantine rules

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