As the more virulent Delta variant spread from India to other parts of the planet including neighboring Indonesia and Thailand, a Philippine health official said it was “inevitable” that the highly infectious mutation of the COVID virus would reach the country.
With authorities unable to prevent even COVID-positive crewmembers of a tugboat from Indonesia from leaving the vessel and roaming Butuan, it was also inevitable that the country is now facing the local transmission of the variant.
Government officials are scrambling to prevent a crisis similar to what Indonesia is now facing. Delta has eluded vaccines even in the United States and parts of Europe, prompting countries with high vaccination rates to consider booster shots.
In the Philippines, the situation in Butuan illustrates the problem in containing Delta, which is believed to be causing a case spike in Metro Manila. The tugboat with barge from Indonesia docked in Butuan on July 14. City officials said three of the crewmembers disembarked to buy food at the public market. The ships left the city on July 16 and headed for Albay. Butuan officials were only belatedly informed that 12 of the 20 all-Filipino crew had tested positive for COVID-19.
Five samples were taken from the infected crew and sent to the Philippine Genome Center for sequencing. Butuan officials were told that it could take from 20 to 30 days before the sequencing can determine if Delta fueled the infections. In the meantime, all that the people in the city’s public market can do is wait for the emergence of symptoms, get tested, and hope that they will be spared from the worst.
With the country’s contact tracing a disaster and the long wait for COVID test results and genome sequencing, people who must leave their homes to earn a living or carry out other essential activities can only hope to avoid exposure to an infected person. Delta is reported to be multiple times more transmissible than the other COVID variants, including the Alpha and Beta that are believed to have fueled the killer surge last summer.
Infection can be kept at bay through continued strict observance of health protocols, notably wearing of face masks and shields, physical distancing and regular handwashing. Vaccination is also essential; the government must further ramp up efforts to acquire more doses and persuade people to get the jabs. We have seen what Delta can do in other countries. Everyone has a role to play in preventing its spread.