Weeks before the first reported case of swine flu in the country, the Department of Health already held daily press conferences on the spread of the virus. Perhaps that was meant to display the department's proactiveness in the face of an impending crisis. But as in the case of the boy who cried wolf, too much too soon may not be very wise either. After numerous warnings, but with no victims in sight, some broadsheets began to wonder -- in the front pages no less -- whether Filipinos had a natural immunity to A(H1N1). Of course, now we know that just isn't so.
Still, with all the attention the department and press coverage, the watch inadvertently became a waiting game. When the first case finally surfaced, well after all our Southeast Asian neighbors reported theirs, it sounded like sigh of relief: "Sa wakas, may swine flu na tayo! Hindi na tayo huli sa ibang bansa!"
Be careful what you wish for, so they say.
At first, the DOH's defensive stance seemed impenetrable. Infection number one, a young girl, flew in from abroad. Immediately the DOH sought out all other passengers seated within the vicinity. Smart move, and very aggressive, our tax pesos visibly at work.
And yet the screen of invincibility all fell apart come the first day of classes on June 8. Two infected DLSU students shut the university down for a week. Apparently eager to get in on the game, the Commission on Higher Education pushed back the opening of college classes a week later; surprisingly, the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports pushed through the schedule. The logic behind this? College students were more likely to have travelled abroad. Like, wow.
But you can't hold off school forever, just like you can't stop the wheels of business and everyday life. Classes started. Vacationeers reported back to work. And the reports of swine flu infections rose, and rose, and rose. As of this writing, the Philippines has over 700 cases, the highest of any country in Southeast Asia.
What happened to all the protective measures? What happened to the airport screenings? What happened to the vaunted proximity tracking? So despite all the early advisories and the panic-inducing daily press briefings, the virus has managed to spread so quickly after all? Are these 700 cases really A(H1N1) to begin with? No one seems to know.
Instead, we get confusing verdicts like "low-level" infection, the first such term I've heard in use since swine flu started. Does that mean that it's not a serious problem, after all?
Neither is the CHED any help in its new guidelines: "Suspend classes on the first infection, but proceed with classes if you already have two or more." What imbecility is this?
It seems to me that it all boils down to this: after feeding the swine flu panic, and unable to contain swine flu at all, both agencies ultimately fall back to the mechanism they know best: spin machines. Unfair to say, perhaps, of the doctors and nurses actually working on the problem, but it's not them I'm speaking of. I mean, instead, the top levels of these departments, secretaries Duque and Lapuz, who have used swine flu as their opportunity to, well, hog the headlines.
Oink to you, gentlemen, oink to you.