By Johnny R. Lee, Ph.D.
The province of Tawi-Tawi and its 11 remote municipalities are not exempted from the onslaught of the novel coronavirus (Covid19) that started last year.
However, it is remarkable to note that despite the population of almost half a million, Tawi-Tawi is still considered as the least affected area in the BARMM region with less than 221 total cases, 13 deaths, 29 active cases and 179 recoveries as of May 25-30 2021. The Municipality of Bongao, the center and capital of the Province of Tawi-Tawi, registered the highest number of cases with 173, Panglima Sugala at 13, Sitangkai 9, Turtle Island 6, Sibutu 6, Sapa-Sapa 5, Mapun 4, Simunul 2 and the remaining 3 municipalities with 1 case each. This is less than 0.05% of total cases as against the total population.
This low number of cases could be attributed to the resiliency and tough outdoor lifestyle of the people especially in the island municipalities. It has been well- published in scientific studies that exposure to sunlight, sand and sea are some of the best natural prevention against the virulent Covid19 that has brought millions of deaths around the world.
Late last year, a friend from one of the island municipalities confided to me that he could have been infected by Covid19 because of common symptoms like fever, loss of smell and taste. Working in a local government office, he confessed his unusual ‘illness’ to one of his office mates and it turned out that the latter is also experiencing the same condition. Furthermore, other officemates whom they have narrated their experiences opened up and admitted that they felt the same illness. Not to alarm the public, they agreed to just keep it among themselves and instead made a plan to go on regular visits to the beach for sun exposure and a dip in seawater. In a couple of weeks doing the routine, they were able to recover and regain their normal selves.
Perhaps these are the reasons why the spread of Covid19 is not as widespread compared to other areas in the region. The death of Dr. Filemon Romero, a noted environmentalist and marine scientist could have been prevented had he stayed in Bongao, according to a prominent physician in Bongao. Although he was diagnosed as Covid19 positive, what aggravated his condition was the lack of oxygen supply, the prolonged time of sea transport (more than 24 hours) and the poor ventilation aboard the ship, the doctor added.