COVID fatigue
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2020 - 12:00am

We all must face the fact that seven months into this pandemic, almost everyone in the world is suffering from mental and emotional stress, experiencing fear, anxiety, depression, frustration and anger. Every other person is looking for someone to blame, and obviously, the main target would always be government since they are expected to take the lead – perhaps rightly so – during emergency situations like this pandemic.

But no one – absolutely no one – could have foreseen a global health crisis of this magnitude whose economic and social impact has been unprecedented.

This pandemic has shaken governments in major countries like the United States which, no matter how developed, is reeling with more than 5 million cases and over 160,000 deaths – and counting. Many Americans, most especially the young ones who denied the reality of the new coronavirus disease, are beginning to realize the gravity of the situation as they find themselves breathing through a ventilator because they refused to wear a mask and flouted social distancing protocols.

With the US presidential elections just a few months away, the COVID-19 “blame game” is now more intense, which ultimately could hamper efforts to come up with effective solutions and mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

But the fact of the matter is, 126 out of the 188 countries grappling with the pandemic are reporting increasing cases of infection again, and even those that initially showed success in containing the virus are now experiencing a resurgence of transmissions.

Vietnam, for instance, which was widely regarded as a coronavirus “containment role model” because it was able to keep the number of cases below 500, with no deaths reported and zero case of local transmission for over three months, is now experiencing a new outbreak, particularly in Da Nang – a popular tourist destination – bringing the total to 789 cases with 10 deaths recorded so far. Authorities are also considering the evacuation of some 1,700 stranded tourists following the fresh outbreak.

Japan, Australia and Hong Kong are now also experiencing alarming new outbreaks after showing initial success in containing the virus – and these countries are serving as a cautionary tale on the risks of lifting restrictions early and opening up too soon. Experts point to Japan in particular because while the government declared a state of emergency, lockdowns were not enforced, people were not compelled to stay home and businesses were not told to shut down.

In the Philippines, the President’s decision to revert Metro Manila and nearby provinces to modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ will give the medical frontliners the breathing space they asked for, with the potential to prevent more than 50,000 cases according to a team of experts from the University of the Philippines.

One of the biggest challenges in preventing the spread of infection, however, is the congestion in slum areas which make it difficult to enforce social distancing. In Brazil, India, Nigeria, Bangladesh and other countries, slum areas with high population density have been described as “incubators of disease,” COVID-19 included. We are no exception, with slum dwellers literally living side-by-side among the most devastated by the pandemic, their situation aggravated by the lack of hygiene and sanitation.

While there is no silver bullet that can put an end to this pandemic, encouraging progress in vaccine development brings us a lot of hope. Last Friday, US State Secretary Pompeo called Secretary Locsin. Our Foreign Affairs secretary took the opportunity to amplify our need for access to the US-funded vaccines being developed by pharma and biotech companies – specifically Moderna, Pfizer and Novavax.

Secretary Pompeo gave the assurance that he will personally make sure that would happen. And true enough, Moderna and Novavax are meeting with us on Monday to discuss what our needs are. We already have Pfizer on board with their Manila country manager in discussion with our government.

Secretary Pompeo assured Sec. Ted that the US is committed to assist us, in every possible way they can, in our effort to fight the pandemic. He says the alliance between the United States and the Philippines remains strong despite the many challenges ahead.

As NEDA acting Secretary Karl Chua said, “These are extraordinary times and the road ahead of us continues to be challenging and uncertain. At this critical juncture in our history, working together to address this unprecedented crisis is our best recourse.”

This pandemic is being likened to a war, but one that is fought not by soldiers but by doctors, and where weapons are soap and water instead of guns. This is a war fought by keeping distance, not contact, and where the combat zone is at home, instead of the battlefield.

While there are some who choose to grumble and complain, there are those who serve as beacons of encouragement, like game show host Willie Revillame. Instead of blaming everything on the government, those who have more in life and have been blessed with personal resources can help, he said. And Willie is putting his money where his mouth is, giving an initial P5 million for the displaced jeepney drivers with a pledge to give another P5 million next month and every month thereafter for those who are most in need, as much as his personal resources allow.

US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “We’re all in the same boat; we need to pull together as a community, as a nation and as a global population.” We need to row towards the same direction to reach the shore. Otherwise, we will all be swept away – wave upon wave – by this contagious disease.

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