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Beware the Ides of March

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 8, 2021 - 12:00am

This article started out with the title “Fatal Fatigue” referring to the danger we face if we allow “COVID-19 Fatigue” to get the better of us in terms of vigilance in exchange for mobility and activity. But a divine whisper suggested I Google the meaning of the phrase “The Ides of March” and it turns out that it is not merely a literary phrase handed down to us by William Shakespeare but in fact historical and connected with bad luck or tragedy. Many of us are familiar with the phrase and know it is a warning about misfortune but few know the reasons thereof. For starters, it is prominently associated with the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar who was reportedly warned by a soothsayer or prophet “Beware the Ides of March” or the middle of March. The emperor reportedly ignored the warning and was assassinated, more accurately knifed to death by several senators. Hmmm, maybe that’s why Presidents and senators are often at “arm’s length.”

For business people, the Roman Ides of March or mid-March was also the day for paying debts or settling your accounts. In this day and age of COVID-19, many of my friends have actually set out to pay debts but still have to find the courage and common sense to settle their estate or write a will. Many fear that their heirs may just squander their inheritance or leave them in poverty in old age; they have unfounded fears unless they have been lousy parents who raised their kids wrong. Trust me on this, time and again I have listened, watched heirs struggle with the challenges of settling taxes, paying accountants’ and lawyers’ fees and multiple clearances as well as several years spent on settlements that could have been avoided if parents cared enough. Give an inheritance, don’t leave a burden. Sorry for the digression.

In a week’s time, we reach “The Ides of March” and from the way reports of COVID-19 cases have jumped it is almost like an eerie warning from a prophet that the worst is not over yet. Will we be like Julius Caesar and ignore and brush away the warnings of a third wave on the rise, will we allow “Fatal Fatigue” to set in and drop our defenses? Will we dismiss such warnings as alarmists or can we double up our collective efforts and act on the side of caution. We must all take into consideration that we are now dealing with an entirely different situation from March 15, 2020. Back then we only had one type of COVID, now we have at least 3 types: COVID-19 the original, the UK variant and the South African variant. The last two have been declared as far more contagious than the original version and both have clearly managed to reach distances because of increased mobility and relaxed quarantine measures.

What is worrisome to me is the potentially confusing and dangerous mixed-messaging being done by government officials both local and national. I fully understand and appreciate that health officials are reassuring the public that the situation is under control and that health care facilities are well able to handle new COVID-19 cases. That’s all good but that’s not the problem. I understand that local officials don’t want their LGUs branded or labeled as hot zones and locked down, but what good does it do to counter or argue data released by the DOH based on hospital admittance or reports in those areas? Even the push back by local officials regarding opening up of businesses and lifting of travel restrictions has resulted in misinformation and confusion. People who go out of town will tell you that in many provinces the children can be seen in public, weekend drinking parties and karaoke parties go on and most barangays have tolerated these.

The biggest problem is the absence of a single messaging platform. The national government needs to make sure that “the right hand knows what the left hand is SAYING” and that both say the same thing and not a self-serving version. Most importantly people need to be made fully aware of how contagious the UK and South African variants are, how widespread they are and what the real or actual cause of the surge in COVID-19 cases are. Just giving out statistics is more alarmist than telling people why and where the surge is coming from. In order to fight or avoid the enemy, we need to know its behavior and where it is. More importantly, people have to know just how dangerous the enemy is.

It’s strange that for a people that always ends our send offs and goodbyes to our loved ones saying “Mag-ingat ka” or “Be careful out there”, the messaging of health officials is the now robotic reminder to observe health protocols and the self-serving statement that hospital capacities are stable. In order to make sure that this new enemy does not keep getting the upper hand, our local and national leaders need to get their “talk” together or we may end up talking about our “Ides of March” disaster.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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