Here to stay

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

In his latest broadcast to the nation, Duterte declared the virus is here to stay and for us to expect more deaths. “Matagal pa ‘to. This virus will just circulate in the air for years…”

Duterte correctly observed that our lifestyles will be changed as we adjust to it and protect ourselves by adopting basic health protocols. COVID-19 has so far infected 1.75 million persons and claimed more than 30,000 lives in the Philippines.

The virus also forced Duterte to impose one of the world’s longest lockdowns that restricted our ability to move around, disrupted businesses, and threw thousands of people out of jobs. The latest two week ECQ imposed on Metro Manila will cost the economy P150 billion according to NEDA estimates.

In Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports the battle against the virus has shifted into long-term, low-intensity mode as they prepare to live with the virus. Such plans include booster shots of the vaccine, mask wearing, frequent testing, and social distancing measures.

The WSJ reports that Europeans are more tolerant of social curbs, unlike in the United States where even the simple act of wearing a mask has assumed a political dimension. Some state governors, notably in Florida and in Texas, are even preventing schools and other institutions from issuing mask wearing mandates despite sharp rises in infection by the Delta variant.

WSJ reports that many European countries, including France and Italy, are making vaccination, a recent recovery from COVID or a recent negative test a prerequisite for daily  activities like dining in a restaurant. French restaurant owners can be fined if they don’t check the status of customers.

The good news, according to the WSJ, is that hospitalization rates in Europe are lower than in previous waves of this pandemic. This highlights the positive effect of vaccines. The EU has vaccinated 53 percent of its population.

But scientists say herd immunity remains some way off, if it can be reached at all. There are fears that new variants may also develop that can avoid vaccine defenses.

The likelier future, WSJ quotes a professor in medicine, is that the virus “loses its sting” due to the vaccines, but causes recurring bouts of illness and death.

Countries have also been boosting their genetic surveillance of the virus to better track its movement among the population. This is something we should do more of. DOH sounds silly to insist there is no community spread of Delta only because they don’t have the data to confirm it, which wider genomic testing provides.

The WSJ also reported that many governments are expanding widespread, regular testing to spot cases and are enhancing, rather than retiring, contact-tracing systems. Again, this is something we should do.

We have never been able to do proper testing and contact-tracing from the start. Testing is too expensive for most Filipinos and a subsidy is a wise use of DOH funds.

Italy, the WSJ reports, uses a color-coded system to rank the state of the pandemic in a region. Red regions have the most restrictions followed by yellow, green, and white. In white regions, only a mask mandate in indoor public places is enforced. Color-coding is not as confusing as the alphabet soup quarantine levels we now have.

An Italian mayor observed that masks are frequently used outdoors even if not mandated and people are ready to get a third shot of the vaccine once they get a go signal. “People aren’t letting their guard down because they know it’s not over…”

It is so different here in the US where I am at the moment. You can count with the fingers of one hand the number of people with masks inside the local Walmart and they are mostly old people.

When we drove to a Mexican restaurant a few miles from where we live, it was the same story of maskless folks. I worried about my unvaccinated infant grandson. Mercifully, we got a table outside after spending a few minutes waiting for one inside.

On border controls, The Economist says there is no straight line between curbing travel and curbing infections. Strict travel restrictions only delay, but does not stop viral spread. In our case, it also leads to corruption in ports.

There have been outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant in countries that closed its borders like Australia. China, in the face of fresh outbreaks, has launched mass testing drives in Nanjing and Wuhan among other cities and imposed new restrictions on domestic travel.

The Economist also cited a study that suggests an expensive PCR test 48 hours before a flight “is worse than a cheaper alternative. It is more accurate than an antigen test, but slower. So travellers have more time to get infected between the test and the boarding gate.”

On the other hand, “an antigen test taken on the day of the trip, accepted by many EU states, reduces the number of infected persons who make it over a border to 24 percent of levels without any testing compared with 33 percent for a PCR test taken two days before a flight.”

Because it is clear that this virus will be around for a long time, IATF ought to review the rules they have been implementing and seek advice from other experts. We need fresh thinking to make our coping mechanisms less oppressive and more effective.

Why, for instance, is exercising in open air banned during ECQ?

The knee jerk response towards lockdowns is killing the economy and may already be killing depressed people who are unable to take the impositions on their lives.

The psychiatric department of The Medical City has issued helpful tips on how to manage our mental health and note symptoms of depression. They must be getting an overload of depressed patients. It would be ironic if the life saved from COVID by a lockdown is lost to suicide due to the depression the lockdown caused.

Let us get all our minds together in determining the kind of attitudes and lifestyle we need to dance with this virus. It’s here to stay.



Boo Chanco’s email address is bchanco@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter@boochanco

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