Christmas with the coronavirus

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - December 9, 2020 - 12:00am

December came quickly. That was something I noticed the other day because for a long time it felt like the days were going by so slowly. Then suddenly, the Christmas season was upon us and everything began to speed up. I suppose that this type of thing happens every year, but this year it feels quite different.

Back when lockdowns first began and we were just on the cusp of learning what living with COVID-19 would be like, we all looked ahead to the “end of the year.” I’m not quite sure why we pegged that as the time to look forward to. I think back then we had hoped that by year’s end we would have already found a vaccine, a cure, or that COVID would have just disappeared and that we would enter 2021 from a better and safer place.

Unfortunately, now that we are here, it doesn’t look like any of those things are poised to happen in the weeks ahead. While there are vaccines that are very close to being available, we are not going to get them in time to end the year with any type of mass inoculation. A cure is still nowhere to be found, and instead of loosening its grip, COVID continues to get worse.

It’s a bit disheartening that we have come all this way – almost 10 months – and have made minimal progress in terms of COVID response and making the necessary safety adjustments needed to deal with the disease. We spent a lot of time waiting for the vaccine and very little working on other solutions. I guess you could say we put our eggs in one proverbial basket and crossed our fingers that the vaccine would come sooner rather than later.

I feel that we should have invested more time, manpower, and even infrastructure to implementing better safety protocols. Doing so would have helped Filipinos live safely while waiting for a viable vaccine. While all businesses have done their best to include COVID-ready facilities – social distance markings, face mask/shield requirements, and etc – strict implementation is still lacking.

I have remained home strictly throughout the quarantine. With health concerns that I can’t ignore I have had to rely on my family to venture outside for our essentials. Initially, people were being careful. However, as more time passed, quarantine fatigue set in and people began to become lax in safety protocols. This is scary because the virus hasn’t lessened or weakened. If anything, it’s gaining momentum. In many parts of the world, it’s spiking drastically again even worse than the first wave.

At the grocery, my daughter has noted numerous times that people, despite wearing masks and shields, are not or cannot maintain the proper social distance. Lines see people one foot away (if at all) and most just take this for granted and think that it’ll be fine because they have a mask on. She has had to remind people, more than once, to not be too close.

We all need to remember that these guidelines were put in place to protect us and not to make things harder for no reason. It’s completely understandable to get tired after all this time, but it’s usually when this happens that we let our guard down and our numbers spike promoting another potential lockdown. That is something I honestly don’t think that many of our countrymen would be able to handle.

Another thing I think would have helped immensely is if we had invested in readily accessible and reliable testing. The slow process of tests and the fact that they are cost prohibitive are keeping people from getting tested and this is also aiding in virus spread. If we had found solid options and worked out a sustainable access program, then more people could be tested and this would make a dent in the virus spread.

This holiday season is really unlike any other. With so many people sick and losing jobs, and businesses closing down, it’s hard to be merry and difficult to find things to look forward to. But we shouldn’t let feeling down be an excuse not to remain vigilant. The only way we are going to get through this is if we all do it together.

So as Christmas approaches, I hope everyone strives to follow COVID safety guidelines. Keep any meetings outdoors with good ventilation, wear masks and shields, and keep gatherings short and below 10 people each. I know it sounds sad and not fun but we’ve all shown how creative we can be in the past several months when it comes to spending time with people we love. I trust we can find ways to do it again.

And we just have to keep it up until we have access to a vaccine, which is hopefully forthcoming. While I appreciate the speed with which pharmaceutical companies are trying to push it out, I also appreciate the stringent safety protocols these vaccines have to go through to ensure their safety. It’s always better to be safe, and if that means waiting just a little bit longer, that’s a small price to pay.

Once the vaccine becomes available, I can only hope the government exercises proper discernment and opts for the safest viable option. Until then, we need to remember that COVID hasn’t gone anywhere and we still need to do our part to stay safe and protect our families and communities.

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