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A MORO IN EXILE: Be less bureaucratic, more proactive, more imaginative, more transparent in containing the 2019-nCoV

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 09 February) — Today’s daily news roundup, mostly bad but with some good news in the end.

First, in just a little over a month, nCoV fatalities already exceed the eight-month total of the more lethal SARS showing that it is not just the mortality rate that matters but also the much quicker spread of the nCoV virus.

Second, Singapore has been showing lots of infection by people who have had no history of travel to China. Infection clusters have been linked to a retail store, a church, and an international conference. The latter one has been linked to cases of Malaysian and German infectees who attended the seminar.

Third, I am getting a lot more information about the movements pre-isolation of the dozens of infected persons in Singapore than about the three confirmed cases in the Philippines.

Fourth, the official Philippines figure remains at only three infected persons but it would be wise to assume that the actual total is much higher given the poor monitoring or tracing system that Philippine authorities have put in place. Note that countries that put up a more robust tracing and diagnostic system and just like the Philippines have seen substantial traffic from China, e.g. Japan, Singapore, or Korea, have much higher numbers of infected people. Safe to assume ours is about the same numbers, or even higher given the poor dissemination of information.

Fifth, transmission is no longer between family members who are in constant contact. Infectees include staff of retail stores where contact with an infected customer is probably limited to just a few minutes, a tour bus driver where contact is limited to during the drive, to conference attendees where again contact with the infected person is limited to minutes.

Sixth, transmission by Chinese travellers not originating from Hubei (Wuhan) but from other provinces in China has been reported. This is consistent with the forecast of Chinese scientists that other provinces and metropolis such as Shanghai and Guangdong may have localised outbreaks too. Hence, coupled with the information that approximately 5 million from Wuhan escaped before the lockdown, this makes the China wide travel ban more sensible.

Now, for a bit of good news. Both Thailand and China reported to have found a cure for the nCoV, a combination of antibiotics, conventional flu medication, and HIV retrovirals. But whether or not it will be widely available outside China is another matter. Furthermore, Chinese authorities, with the lockdown of several cities (not just Wuhan) expect a downturn in the rate of infection. Let us hope they are right and that hopefully, other countries that have put in place a robust response will follow. Can’t say the same about Philippines though where many things are still unknown. Huwag lang sana mangyari na nakarecover na ibang bansa pero tayo naman ang ma-travel ban.

Parting words for today from Manong: Continue to wear masks, avoid touching face while out in public, practice good hygiene (wash hands with soap and gurgle mouth immediately upon going home), and call on Philippine authorities to be less bureaucratic, more proactive, more imaginative, more transparent in containing the disease. Kulitin ninyo hanggang tumino. Buhay ng mga pamilya natin nakataya dito.

(Zainudin Malang is a lawyer from Mindanao who spent years on deployment in acute emergencies in East Africa and the Middle East. Before that, he was the founding head of a human rights and civilian protection organization in Mindanao and was one of the five members of the peace process monitoring body)

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