Omicron is in the air this 2022

Like all the other that went before it, 2022 is a year filled with hope and risks.

From the few days leading up to Dec. 25 and to the New Year, people, with children in tow, went out in droves.

Grocery stores, markets and malls were packed, as the population spent enough to keep cash registers ringing continuously along with the holiday music.

Hundreds went to resorts and public beaches on New Year’s Day, drinking, eating, conversing and swimming with no masks or physical distancing.

After all, no new COVID-19 cases had been reported for the past five days.

On Dec. 30, 2021, the municipal government of Virac even allowed a private group to hold a motor show at the Virac Sports Center where hundreds of enthusiasts gathered in close proximity.

With Catanduanes under Alert Level 2 and active COVID-19 cases dropping to a record low of four, the local government units of Bato and Panganiban felt confident enough to allow the resumption of cockfighting in cockpit arenas.

Virac could have joined at the same time had it not been for Mayor Sinforoso Sarmiento’s attempt to have the Sangguniang Bayan decide on the issue when it remains his responsibility all along.

As Vice Mayor Arlynn Arcilla and the municipal council correctly pointed out, it was the national IATF which suspended cockfighting events and by lowering the Alert Level, empowered LGUs, through the municipal mayor, to decide on its resumption upon the recommendation of the municipal IATF.

The problem, however, that it was not the municipal IATF which made the recommendation but the Municipal Health Office.

Aside from the maximum 50% venue capacity for fully-vaccinated individuals including cockpit employees, Dr. Elva Joson said the management of cockpit arenas should likewise ensure that “betting shall be cashless and shall use technology-based platforms” so that there will be no physical exchange of cash anywhere in the cockpit and there will be no oral placing of bets.

It should be clarified to disappointed cockfighting aficionados that this is not based on the whim of Dr. Joson but on National IATF Resolution No. 154 issued on Dec. 14, 2021.

Nor is the issue linked to the politics, especially that of gubernatorial candidate Vice Governor Shirley Abundo, whose family operates the capital town’s cockfighting arena.

Rather than place the burden on the legislative body, Mayor Sarmiento should have furnished the cockpit a copy of the MHO recommendations, advise the management to comply with the requirements and then issue the resumption order by himself once compliance has been verified.

As the primary entry point of travelers from the National Capital Region where the Omicron variant is being suspected of causing the sudden rise in new cases, Virac should heed the directive of the Department of Health Bicol Center for Health Development.

With the threat of the Omicron variant spreading through the local population a likely possibility, the provincial IATF and its municipal counterparts should consider implementing stricter border controls.

The hangover of the holiday celebrations should have gone by now, which would be the right time to ponder how the movement of the island’s population would be better controlled in an Omicron-dominated environment.

Considering the high transmissibility of the variant and the fact that the much-needed equipment and medicines have yet to be procured for the six hospitals treating COVID-19 patients, there is a great chance that the entry of Omicron and the subsequent rise in coronavirus cases among the 140,000 people not yet fully vaccinated would again overwhelm the health system and bring us back to Alert Level 4.

The action to be taken by local leaders in this regard could either boost or doom their chances for reelection in the forthcoming May 9, 2022 elections.

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