FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Dr. Anthony Fauci, top US infectious diseases expert, is pretty impressed by the virus the whole world is now desperately fighting.

In a recent interview, he described the enemy as an “efficient” virus. Because of that, it is “spectacularly transmissible.” It is the ideal culprit for a “perfect storm” of infections.

Donald Trump has not held any briefing on the pandemic for many weeks now and the White House has denied requests for Fauci to be interviewed. But the physician’s wisdom manages to seep out anyway.

Fauci is a hardboiled scientist. He speaks the scientific facts straight. This is the reason Trump finds him intolerable.

While Trump, living in his own private fact-free universe, plays down the pandemic and blames the recent spike in infections in wider testing. Fauci said last week that the ongoing spike in infections could produce as much as 100,000 infections per day.

The other day, the number of US infections jumped to a record 60,500 in a 24-hour period. Even more alarming numbers may be expected the coming week, given the very high positivity rates of tests being conducted.

Defying medical wisdom, Trump insisted on holding a large indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma about two weeks ago. The past few days, that small city began recording a sharp rise in infections.

There should be a way to hold this misshapen man accountable for contributing to the higher death rate. He has consistently misinformed his own people about the virus and pushed for unwise policies that caused the spike in infections now being experienced.

Because of the great number of infections now happening in the US, contact tracing becomes futile. Hospitals in Florida and Texas have been swamped. The same shortages in medical supplies and protective gear we saw in New York last April are now being experienced in many states in the US south and west.

Contact tracing is the only way to bring outbreaks under control. If that has become futile, the surge in infections might be considered to have spun out of control.

By the last count, 24 states have either paused or rolled back measures to open the economy. In the face of sharply rising infections, it has now become a possibility that lockdown measures will have to be imposed in those states  that opened up too early and too recklessly at the prodding of Trump.

Trump pushed for the early reopening of states entirely to save his reelection chances. If lockdowns are imposed once more out of sheer medical necessity, and over the objections of Trump supporters, the earlier effort to contain the spread of the virus will be wasted.


The efficiency of this virus cannot be understated.

Just weeks ago, Australia appeared to have decisively triumphed over the pandemic. This week, the country’s second largest city, Melbourne, was returned to lockdown. Infections suddenly spiked, mainly in the high-rise apartment complexes in that city.

Hong Kong, too, appeared to have vanquished the virus. This week, yet another outbreak of infections was reported.

In populous India, the pandemic seems to be gathering momentum. In Brazil, the infection rate rose sharply to about 40,000 per day. Among those testing positive for the virus is that country’s populist president Jair Bolsonaro who spent much of the past four months denying the seriousness of the viral threat and fighting with his country’s medical experts.

Over the past week, we too saw a disconcerting surge in infections. The DOH has reported infections higher than 2,000 per day for several recent days. Some of our main COVID-19 hospitals in the metropolis reported running out of capacity. Among these is the Philippine General Hospital that plays a key role in the general medical strategy to fight the pandemic.

Our infection numbers are, of course, miniscule compared to the horrendous numbers we see in the US and Brazil. But the recent surge has pushed us up to second after Indonesia in the ASEAN in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.

If the surge in infections abates over the next few weeks, then we can continue our careful opening of the economy. But if the spike continues, then the brakes might have to be applied to population movement and business activities. In the worst case, we might have to return to the dreaded ECQ.

President Duterte says we could no longer afford a major surge in infections. That seems to be a statement of policy. Should infections spike over the next few days, government will not hesitate to restore restrictions.

As a reaction to the higher numbers seen the past week and the apparent readiness of government to return to a lockdown, the stock market saw a retreat the past few days. Unless the infection numbers are brought down in a sustained manner for a longer period, our economy will continue to teeter on the edge. We are, after all, fighting the same efficient virus that resurged in other countries.

Government messaging must be clearer on this aspect. When we become complacent and allow infections to spread, our own livelihood will be put in peril. The only way we can claw back the economic setback of the past four months is to dramatically bring down the infection numbers.

Defeating this efficient virus must be a genuine community effort. Even as we loosen restraints on mobility, we cannot relax the health standards.

Because of its impressive transmissibility, this virus will be with us for a very long time. We will simply have to be more efficient than this virus.

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