Last Updated on June 8, 2023 by Ellen
Outrageous COVID-21 headlines grabbed a lot of attention in this part of the Philippines this week, and presumably, lots of clicks.
Perhaps the most shocking headline came from our island, Panay: “Crematorium overheats due to many dead bodies.”
Is it true? Yes.
Do visions of India play out in your mind? They do in my head.
Does this headline need context? Yes.
More context on recent headlines
Panay Island has a population of about 4.3 million people. There are four provinces on Panay. Ours is Aklan, with about 615,000 people.
The Aklan provincial health chief is quoted in that crematorium story. He says Aklan has up to five people a day dying from COVID as of early August. Aklan COVID deaths are sent to Iloilo for cremation – it doesn’t have its own crematorium.
That crematorium is in Iloilo City, about a four hour drive on a mostly two-lane road. Before the pandemic, five bodies a day were cremated there. Now, at least 10 bodies a day need to be cremated in Iloilo City, which come from all of the island’s provinces.
The crematorium is old. It couldn’t handle the 100% increase – from five to 10 bodies on an island with 4.3 million people.
The death toll is much lower than the headline might lead you to believe.
Yet, the headline is accurate.
Other news headlines on COVID — and context
I don’t mean to downplay any COVID deaths – I take the threats made by this pandemic seriously and it saddens me that people are dying.
That said, as a former news executive in another life, the way news is covered here in the Philippines interests me.
Some other recent attention-grabbing headlines:
- Some patients ‘almost dying’ in ambulances in Kalibo, Aklan (Kalibo is the provincial capital)
- Chaos at Manila vaccine sites as thousands rush to get COVID-19 shots before lockdown
- Iloilo City hits 100% ICU capacity, Aklan seeks cash, contract-tracing aid
All of the above headlines are technically accurate. There is vaccination chaos; a health care shortage is happening; patients in ambulances have delayed care.
The world is not falling apart here, yet… as you can see with context added.
- AMBULANCES: Some patients were brought to the main ‘COVID’ hospital in Kalibo, and they had to wait. Yet, at least one other hospital in the provincial capital is empty. Most Filipinos cannot afford private care.
- I know this for a fact, because a friend had eye surgery last week, and his private hospital was empty.
- CHAOS: The ‘chaos’ at Manila vaccination sites was the result of ‘fake news’ that sent people into a panic. The rumor was people would not be allowed to leave home if they weren’t vaccinated. If people cannot leave home, they can’t work. And these people are mostly poor.
- IICU: loilo City is only at 100% ICU capacity in public hospitals. Additionally, as the mayor has repeatedly said, a large portion of patients are from the island’s three other provinces. This is a developing nation and most rural provinces do not have sufficient modern health care access.
Perhaps what is even more interesting than these dire headlines: the absolute reliance on Facebook to share news. Government agencies – and even government workers – use Facebook to post updates to the public, bypassing traditional media all together.
I now follow individual health care workers on Facebook to get the latest numbers and information on COVID cases in our area. This is just how it is here.
In fact, to register for vaccines, individual workers posted links and instructions — which I had missed because I didn’t follow the right people or profiles. (Luckily, we were eventually able to register and get vaxxed.)
Aklan on MECQ status
We have been under another ‘quarantine’ in the complicated system Philippine system of lockdowns since the beginning of the month. Here in Malay Municipality in Aklan Province, we are under what is called a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, or MECQ.
This means only Theo can leave our barangay, Motag, for essential travel – like procuring groceries or money runs. Thankfully, he is also allowed to leave ‘home’ for humanitarian work with the Ati.
I can leave, too, but only for super-essential stuff, like our trip to the Bureau of Immigration last week. And for that I needed a special travel pass. It was essential, because we are on tourist visas, and every two months we have to appear before immigration officers to ask for an extension.
The immigration office is on Boracay Island. So after the essential business, I walked across the street to White Beach to take a peak.
It’s empty. The few domestic tourists that had recently been coming back to the beach from places like Manila are no more.
Anyone from MECQ or ECQ areas are not allowed to travel to Boracay. By the way, ECQ is the most extreme lockdown with basically no travel anywhere for any reason except medical emergencies. As it is, we are lucky there is an immigration office on Boracay, technically part of Malay town.
The point of the MECQ is to minimize transmission of the virus. To prevent a repeat of India and Indonesia.
In addition to the restraints on movement, there is a curfew, a liquor ban, and protocols for everything from church attendance (only 10% allowed) to funerals (immediate family only, and burial in a short amount of time – not the usual weeks after death).
A few days ago, the provincial government mandated all businesses close by 4:00 p.m. This even includes ‘sari-sari’ stores — little mom-and-pop grocery stories in every neighborhood, and in more populated areas, on every single corner.
All of this to prevent the news headlines from getting even more outrageous — and true.
Vaccinations and Delta variant
Genome sequencing of the Delta variant still lags greatly. The Delta variant has not been confirmed to be in Aklan, but it is in every part of Manila and Delta cases keep growing in the next province over from us – in Antique.
For us, the less attention-grabbing but more heartbreaking headline at the moment: Our Filipino friends continue to suffer without jobs, without income.
And it looks like there’s no end in sight yet. The International Monetary Fund believes the Philippines will see pre-pandemic economic levels of growth in three to five years.