Focused on safety in 2022

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

We are coming to the end of 2021 – another challenging year focused mainly on pandemic response and learning how to live with the constant threat of COVID-19. If we had told ourselves in early 2020 that the next two years would turn out the way they did, I highly doubt we would have believed it. Looking back, it feels like it came out of the screenplay of some outbreak-themed film and not the reality we’ve faced for the past two years.

Now, as we round a new corner and approach the end of 2021, we remain hopeful that things will continue to improve in the year ahead. The optimism stems from our cases finally going down and the numbers improving every day. And while that doesn’t mean we should stop safety measures, it offers cold comfort that the surge caused by Delta may finally be under control.

However, as we celebrate better COVID-19 numbers this December, we also have to be extra vigilant in the face of a potential new threat that is proving to be even harder to control than Delta. We have been talking about it for quite some time now, and based on data and news from other countries, it appears as if Omicron is proving to be even more transmissible than Delta. This is highly alarming because Delta was already more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain.

This could be a substantial potential roadblock in our continued path to economic recovery in 2022. Last year, we faced a slightly similar situation as we celebrated Christmas with improved numbers before Delta hit. Many thought we might have finally started down a path to recovery, only to be thrown into two more enhanced community quarantines in 2021 in the face of Delta and hospitals getting overwhelmed again.

I really hope the same story doesn’t unfold due to Omicron. The United States has seen tremendous surges, and many parts of Europe already list Omicron as the dominant strain for infections. While the symptoms may be milder, the problem is that this variant seems to be far more transmissible and able to breakthrough vaccination, resulting in higher numbers and the potential for hospitals to be overwhelmed yet again.

Over the holidays in the United States, several flights had to be canceled and postponed due to the threat of Delta and airline crews catching COVID-19. While those who were vaccinated usually only suffered mild symptoms and illnesses, the fact remains that we are facing another very challenging threat that is making us concede that the fight may be far from over.

 This is particularly challenging for the United States, which had hoped the threat was in the rearview mirror already. With large-scale gatherings happening all over the country, you could see that there was real hope that things were beginning to return to somewhat normal. And while safety protocols managed to keep several of these large-scale events safe, it’s impossible to ignore that there are still a large majority of Americans who refuse to follow even the simplest protocols, causing concerning spikes in several parts of the country.

 Here in the Philippines, we have (so far) managed to keep the Omicron threat in check, but the reality is that this could change quickly. Our lower numbers could turn on a dime if we let our guard down. And with the holiday season marking so many gatherings and packed malls and restaurants, we could very easily start the new year with a surge and increase once again. But I hope that is not the case.

At the end of the day, we have to circle back to the protocols in place for a reason. Vaccination is the most important, and as more vaccines become available, as many people must get vaccinated as possible. Boosters have also been made available for those meeting the criteria and should be done as soon as possible. And, of course, the bare minimum of keeping the masks on, social distancing, avoiding crowded unventilated spaces, and staying home as much as possible. 

For businesses, staying safe also means designing working arrangements centered on safety and security. While many companies are already doing a slow and deliberate return to the office, we can’t forget all the lessons we learned in the past several months. Understandably, some companies need people back in the workplace, but we have to remember that we aren’t out of the woods yet. Not by a longshot, and if it can be done remotely, it should be. We need to think about the safety of all.

Many workplaces are experimenting with hybrid work arrangements that have employees coming into the office staggered throughout the week and working the rest of the time remotely. Suppose a company can keep more of their people at home longer. In that case, studies still show that this is the safest option, and the technology supports it too. Hence, there is no need to rush back to packed public transportation and full offices just yet.

We owe it to ourselves to do this right. We have a chance to keep our numbers low and put us in a better position to begin 2022 strong. Our businesses have shown extreme resiliency these past two years, and we all need to invest in keeping safe as we move forward. We can write a better 2022 if we all commit to doing what we can to keep one another safe.


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