A Philippine sailboat with the name, "Keep Smiling" sits on White Beach, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan, Philippines.

Delta variant near Malay, Aklan. How bad will it get?

The dreaded Delta variant is near Malay, Aklan — close to our temporary pandemic home.

We’ve been lucky so far during this crazy pandemic. We decided to hunker down and ride this out in this part of the Philippines. The coronavirus was always in this semi-rural area, but death rate was relatively low with all of the rules and regulations and lockdowns.

How bad will it get?

The first Delta variant cases were identified a few weeks ago in Manila. Most of the cases were caught through testing of quarantined overseas foreign workers (OFWs) coming back home. These are people who leave to work in other countries, sometimes by contracts that last years. The OFWs were kept in quarantine until they recovered, then allowed to travel to their home island.

The Philippines is a developing nation and its been struggling to get vaccinations. Less than 6 percent of the population is fully vaccinated as of this writing, and only 2 percent of people are fully vaccinated in our province.

Wealthy nations have the luxury of choice on protection with much higher vaccination rates.

The Philippines has no choice, and is totally exposed.

The start of a surge…

Around April and May, there were more cases of COVID in our region.

By June, the government put our province, Aklan, and others, on a more stringent “community quarantine.”

Then, on July 16, our exact 16-month anniversary of living in Barangay Motag, the news broke that the Delta variant was nearby – and likely involves local transmission.

Two cases were discovered in Pandan, Antique. That’s only 16 miles from us, 60 minutes by car on a two-lane road around mountains..

We are the blue dot in the picture below.

Delta Variant near Malay, Aklan

An elderly couple with no history of travel showed symptoms of the virus in late May. They tested positive on May 29.

The woman had Type 2 diabetes, and sadly, she died. The man recovered.

Their samples were sent to the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) on June 11, nearly two weeks after they tested positive.

More than one month later, on July 16, the PGC revealed the couple had the Delta variant. Seems like Delta has a good head start.

An epidemiologist quoted by the national government’s news agency said: “It took more than a month for the result to be released from the Philippine Genome Center because of the bulk of specimens that are being sent there.”

Translation: the PGC is overwhelmed. It is currently only testing 0.317% of all positive cases, as I have previously written on this blog.

The Philippine Department of Health ordered contact tracing. Remember, it’s a developing nation…

The questions now become, how bad will it get, what about the vaccination effort, and what about the effort to restart tourism on Boracay Island? Because all anyone around here really cares about – is income.

Tourism was the economic engine here, and it’s been nearly 1.5 years since it stalled.

Only time will tell about how bad things might get. Since the local transmission cases were nearly two months ago, we should have a clear idea, relatively soon.

It’s interesting to me, and perhaps telling, that the USA is sending hundreds of extra hospital beds to the Philippines, along with other medical supplies, including vaccines.

American vaccines in the Philippines

Three American-approved vaccines are now in the Philippines – by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson. There are so few Moderna and Pfizer vaccines here, however, that we aren’t holding our breath for getting one of those. Perhaps, with some luck, we might be able to get the J&J jab.

Until now, most jabs went to Manila. But the game will likely change with the Delta variant in this area. Manila will want to (hopefully) protect Boracay and surrounding area from being overrun. So we can only hope some of the J&J jabs are shipped this way, and that we might get it.

As Theo put it, it’s one thing for us to take a donated jab by our home country. That doesn’t feel like we’re really ‘cutting the line’. But if we took vaccinations before our age group that was secured by the Philippine government for the Philippine people, it would feel plain wrong.

The country is still vaccinating only people ages 60 and over, along with ‘economic frontliners’ – those people who work with the public.

Additionally, up until this point, the only vaccines in this area have been AstraZeneca (not approved by the USA for emergency use) and Sinovac (also not approved by the USA, and not accepted in many countries).

So even if these vaccines were offered for our age groups, I would pass. They’d do me no good on future travel. Because I’m not staying here forever.

A note about the U.S. Embassy

People often ask, “What about the embassy – can they help?”

No. They will not help us.

Former service members can get vaccinated at VA facilities in Manila. We are not veterans, and we are nowhere near Manila.

When this pandemic started, and there were sweeper flights out of the Philippines, the U.S. government warned Americans: you’re on your own.

But now that our government – to which we still pay taxes, of course – is donating vaccinations to the Philippines, we feel OK taking one of those shots if Manila sends any of it this way.

Related: U.S. Embassy in the Philippines gives away beer bottle openers (but forget about vaccinations)

What about Boracay?

Our regular readers know Boracay Island has been reopened for domestic tourists. We live across the channel from the island. (Shown in the map above.) I take the ferry over at least once a week to meet with a fellow sober friend.

There are more tourists over there now than at any other time in our 16 months in Malay Municipality (which includes where we live on the ‘mainland’ and Boracay). That’s great news for locals because there have been more suicides from economic hardship than COVID deaths — by far.

Boracay tourism was the main economic driver for the Western Visaya region of the Philippines. The industry was decimated with lockdowns and border closures.

And while I say “more tourists” now — it’s really only a drop in the ocean compared to pre-pandemic tourism numbers.

In 2019, more than 2 million tourists went to Boracay.

The island was shut down in March 2020, and re-opened to domestic tourists from outside this region on October 1, 2020.

Since then, visitor numbers varied each month – as few as 200 or 2,000, and then finally – just last month – nearly 25,000 domestic tourists went to Boracay.

That’s a far cry from 2 million, but it was enough to give people hope.

If Boracay is again closed to domestic travelers, I don’t know how on Earth people there – and here on the mainland – will possibly avoid financial ruin, if they haven’t already.

Keep smiling

The recent weak pulse of tourism gives hope to people. And however that elderly couple got the Delta variant in Antique, hopefully they didn’t come into contact with too many people. Hopefully they didn’t have children and grandchildren visit their home. Hopefully they wore masks while out in public.

There’s a paraw (Philippine sailboat) sometimes parked on White Beach. I’ve seen it a few times over the last 16 months of our temporary stay in Malay, Aklan.

It’s pictured above, and I’ll end this post with the same shot because it reminds me to keep smiling, keep hopeful and faithful, and remember that Life is Now. Really NOW – this very moment.

Thanks for reading, “Delta variant near Malay, Aklan. How bad will it get?”


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One thought on “Delta variant near Malay, Aklan. How bad will it get?

  1. Thank you for this update, Ellen. What hardship that area has been through! So sad about the suicide numbers. But I agree to keep smiling in this moment—for it’s all there is—and we can always choose love. Wishing you and your community peace, love and good health.

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