Pangasinan folk recall SARS encounter as world deals with nCoV outbreak
ALCALA, Pangasinan, Philippines — Se¬venteen years ago, a massive health upheaval hit a village in this farming town, similar to what is being experienced by residents of Wuhan City in China who have been shunned due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Barangay Vacante here was ostracized for two weeks in 2003 when two of its residents died of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a viral respiratory illness that is also caused by a coronavirus.
The SARS epidemic then affected 26 countries where more than 8,000 cases were recorded, according to the World Health Organization.
At Vacante, the disease claimed the lives of nursing aide, Adela Catalon, 45, who returned home from Canada where she reportedly contrac¬ted SARS, and her father, Mauricio, 74, whom she helped care for. Both died in April 2003.
The Catalons’ deaths, which were the first reported SARS-related cases in the Philippines, prompted the quarantine of virtually the entire village where around 700 people were living and working at that time.
Based on accounts of their immediate relatives, the Cata¬lons were treated like lepers because people from their neighboring villages avoided them.
Tricycle drivers from other towns refused to ferry Alcala residents, and vehicles coming from Alcala were barred from entering other towns.
Restaurants, private and even government offices in nearby communities refused to serve villagers from Alcala. Even the village’s main agricultural product, tobacco, was rejected by traders, and rotted in the storage.
“The elementary school and the day care center were closed. We were told to stay home,” Vacante village chair, Wilma Batister, recalled.
Fear and panicShe said the absence of social media back then helped health officials manage the fear and panic resulting from the tense situation.
According to Batister, the government and the private sector did not abandon them because food aid and other donations were continuously sent to them during the isolation period.
The quarantine implemen¬ted in Vacante angered some residents who even defied the health safety protocols.
“There were those who got angry because of the isolation. They did not believe that SARS had entered their village,” Dr. Shirante Parayno, the town’s health officer, recounted.
Almost a decade later, the new strain of coronavirus has also caused the temporary shutdown of Wuhan City in Hubei province in China. About 11 million people live and work in that Chinese city, the known ground zero of the 2019-nCoV outbreak.
Like Wuhan City that had to cancel the Lunar New Year celebrations, Alcala also had to scrap its town fiesta that year to contain the disease.
“We feel what they (Wuhan residents) are feeling. We suffered, too, and we did not know what hit us. But with a little prodding, most of the villagers welcomed the quarantine, which immediately helped stop the spread of the disease,” Parayno said.
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