Digital islanders due to COVID

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

"No man is an island” wrote the 17th Century English poet John Donne as he pointed out the need for nations and people “to draw closer to each other and to God.” The civilized world has embraced those words as essential to global peace and survival, until the COVID -19 pandemic essentially took over and dictated how mankind, nations, families and individuals would have to conduct themselves. Just when we all thought that lockdowns and vaccinations were doing the job, defeating the spread of COVID-19, the accursed virus transforms into its numerous variants, either striking harder or spreading faster and in both variants it attacks people or attacks our health care system to the point of neutralizing our collective abilities to fight back.

The general impression is that we are now fighting against Omicron more than the Delta variant and we mistakenly assume that Omicron is the lesser evil. Everything we know about what variants struck each of us remains largely as guess work, while the undeniable fact is that we all get sick, we all end up in two-week isolation, lose at least  two weeks’ work, two weeks’ pay, we lose a lot of sleep and some are less fortunate when they find themselves with severe COVID and in the ICU. Don’t say it’s the roll of the dice because it could be your life on the table.

So how does the future look like for many of us? Some people foolishly focus on monitoring day-to-day trends, hoping to spot the downward trend of cases, assuming that this would signal the eventual return to “normal” such as it was last November and December. But for victims of COVID-19, the realization and the prospects of being pumped with medicines, oxygen support or intubation also made many rethink how we should reengage with people, family and the world around us, particularly those of us who have one or several comorbidities. After discovering that double masks won’t do, realizing that all it takes to get COVID is to walk between two chattering asymptomatic but infected individuals who are socially distanced but not from you, that your last guest at an open air lunch was infected and exposed you, I honestly have had serious thoughts if humanity will soon have to “interact” via zoom, Facebook or streamyard and the likes by choice.

We are already buying most of our essentials and non-essentials online, we even buy laptops, air conditioners, clothes on the internet and, to a limited degree, people have become more relaxed and prefer Tele-Medicine versus live consultations in clinics or hospitals. In spite of the warning of worry warts at the DOH about the unqualified use of anti-gen COVID testing kits, I will boldly predict that until we totally wipe out COVID from the face of the earth or we make treatment as simple as “here’s a tablet take two and you’ll be OK tomorrow,” chances are we will all have COVID anti-gen test kits at the door or driveway of every house and it will all be part of the entry process for guests. Tests and Cocktails to be followed with lunch or dinner.

In fact, some of us might become so used to doing self-tests that some gatherings might be “Bring your own anti-gen test kits” and swab our own nose. Don’t shake your head in disbelief; a number of weddings, product launches and conferences have featured on-site testing done by laboratory providers. My sister who has been undergoing chemotherapy for about a year now is like a crossing guard but armed with test kits, and thanks to her vigilance she has found several guests and helpers to be positive.

As I write this article my wife Karen is attending a Zoom-Despedida lunch with approximately seven or eight ladies from different parts of the country and the world. They all ordered lunch for themselves and are merrily talking on split screen. Tomorrow, Karen will be “back in the gym” online. She has sustained her fitness program through all the lockdowns by arranging her training also via Zoom and much prefer it that way when we are in the province anyway.

Another set of friends of mine in the motoring field love to get together but because of the lockdowns were forced to try going online. It was a “drink your own poison and eat your own pulutan” on Zoom. People still managed to have a good time, stories overflowed and more than anything it brought home the lesson that we should do everything to “fellowship” even if it’s only online.

Speaking of fellowship, we have been watching church service online, attend Bible studies and fellowships via FB Messenger as well as have a more expanded schedule and choices of podcasts and resources than when we used to attend Sunday services in person.

Earlier in the month my family friends Rommel and Kenneth Sytin surprised me with an announcement that they have taken up riding motorcycles and have put up the Philippine distributorship of the British brand of motorcycles called MUTT Motorcycles. They were never riders before but they explained that aside from the logical business decision, they have readjusted their lifestyle choices in mobility to include small engine motorcycles for short trips. It validates what many other upper and middle-class individuals and executives have said – the pandemic has effectively limited our range of travel based on essential needs and professional choice. Most of us have discovered WORK FROM HOME, even the company owners, so why not make it fun instead of resisting the idea that we need to redefine and redesign in order to survive COVID?

The words of the Lord in the book of Isaiah 43:19 comes to mind in all of this: “Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” All these are new indeed!

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