Optimistic but realistic outlook

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

I first wrote about SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (then called 2019-nCOV), in January 25, 2020. At that time, the Department of Health had just announced the case of a five-year-old boy from Wuhan who was confined at a hospital in Cebu City with flu-like symptoms. It was later confirmed to be not a COVID-19 case, and Cebu heaved a collective sigh of relief.

During that time, when you write about the novel coronavirus, you risk being called an alarmist in social media. And so I wrote: “There is no such thing as “prematurely” calling for alert and vigilance about the spread of the deadly infection. We need to stay alert.”

Back then when you wear a mask in public, you ran the risk of being mocked for “paranoia”, or of being chided for competing with medical workers who need face masks. I started wearing masks nevertheless, especially when I was in elevators, public toilets, and long lines.

What a difference a year of grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic makes. We no longer mock people for being overly cautious. We hear news about the more contagious SARS-COV-2 variant and we feel on the edge. We just want things to go back to normal.

We want to be optimistic about 2021. Surely, this is a year of recovery, we tell ourselves. “Cebu to rise again,” is the collective call of local business leaders as we greet the new year.

We can choose to be optimistic but also realistic in our outlook. Because the good news is that we now know better about this virus. We are now better equipped to deal with the crisis. The bad news is that many people are still clinging to the old normal, and I think that is where their weariness is coming from.

Many things aren’t going back to the way they were. Deal with it if you want to focus on moving forward.

The new variant of SARS-COV2 that causes COVID-19 may be more contagious. But it does not mean that current public health measures are rendered less effective because of it. Medical experts still advise that strict observance of health protocols --distancing, masks, hygiene-- can stop the virus in its tracks, whatever variant it is. There is yet also no scientific evidence to support any conclusion that current vaccines will not work against new strains.

Being an optimist means close to nothing if we refuse to accept that many things are not going back to the way they were. Wearing a face mask in public, for one, will become part of our normal life post-COVID. The Taiwanese people have made wearing a face mask a simple and customary way to protect themselves since after the 2003 SARS outbreak.

In the news yesterday was the use of online platforms to facilitate the issuance of business permits and payment of fees and taxes in Mandaue City and Lapu-Lapu City. This is a good start. But more reforms are needed to sharply increase the use of e-governance tools at a time when we want to prevent overcrowding in offices.

As we begin to recover, empty offices may soon be filled again. But as Bloomberg predicted, “instead of cramming us in, the new office may well be spacier, with more room to collaborate, and most importantly, we will come in when we need to not because we have to.”

The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come. Our reaction today determines our fate moving forward when future pandemics hit.

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