EDITORIAL: QUARANTINE RP STYLE

Manila, April 25, 2003 EDITORIAL:The Philippine Star 04/25/2003 -  This is quarantine, Philippine style: tricycle drivers continue to ply their routes, which includes going out of the village that is supposed to be under isolation. Other people whose sources of livelihood are also outside the village ignore the quarantine.

How then can we be reassured that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has not spread from three sitios in Alcala, Pangasinan, hometown of nursing assistant Adela Catalon, which are supposed to be under qua-rantine? Oh, but we’re not even sure yet if Catalon died of SARS. Health officials have emphasized that Catalon was just a "probable" SARS fatality, just as her father is also merely suspected to have died of the deadly atypical pneumonia. The official cause of the father’s death is cancer.

How long before we determine if the SARS virus was responsible for the deaths of father and daughter? No one knows. By the time we find out – if we ever find out – we could have a full-blown crisis in our hands. This, of course, could turn out to be no-thing but media hype. But then that was the initial attitude of authorities in China and Hong Kong, until it was too late. China and Hong Kong escaped the worst of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the fallout from the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But this time the fallout from SARS could be catastrophic.

In Toronto, where officials have admitted they could have lost control of the mysterious disease, the full impact is just starting to be felt as the World Health Organization advised travelers to stay away from Canada’s biggest city.

Because of globalization it is impossible to keep SARS out forever. The virus is now in India and is said to have jumped to Europe. Countries that can minimize the casualty count and reduce the economic fallout from the disease are those that can reassure the world of transparency, determination and capability in dealing with the disease. This includes efficient quarantine procedures – something that we have so far failed to see in the Philippines’ potential SARS hot spots.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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