Dance of survival
There are two approaches to take in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. An online article names these two approaches as the “hammer and dance.” The “hammer” is the period of lockdowns and quarantines (and in the Philippines, of checkpoints, instant arrests, and harsh punishments) meant to break the spread of the virus. The “dance,” meanwhile, refers to the subsequent period when people learn to live with the disease and weigh the risks and consequences of infection versus the need to revive the stalled economy.
But there is a cautionary fairy tale attached to “dancing” with the virus. “The Red Shoes” tells of a girl who coveted a pair of magic red ballet shoes but found out that there was a curse attached to the footwear. She found that once the shoes were on the feet of the wearer, the owner would start dancing and would find it impossible to stop. And so the story ends with a dance-besotted young woman twirling and tip-toeing her way to an early death.
We have gone and are going through an extended episode of the hammer — indeed, persevering through what’s been called “the world’s longest lockdown.” Certainly, for many the loosened controls could not have come sooner.
And yet, in the wake of the dance’s first steps, we have seen an alarming spike in the number of cases, with daily counts exceeding a thousand. It thus seems that the time afforded our health authorities by the extended quarantines to build capacities and “flatten the curve” has been for naught. Government says it’s the increased level of testing — and the growing number of positive cases thus surfacing — that has caused the “spike.” Or maybe it could just be that the testing has uncovered the real extent of infections that were previously unreported or ignored, and are now uncovering new cases with greater efficiency.
Government officials are bending over backward to highlight the positive side of the situation. The surge in the number of cases, said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, is not a cause for alarm but only a reflection of the health care system’s better performance in recent weeks.
Department of Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire prefers to focus on the “slow” decline in the number of deaths from COVID-19.
“It is really decreasing,” she told the media. “We have only a 2.9-percent case fatality rate compared to when we started, when it was more than 10 percent.” Besides, added Vergeire and supported by Roque, the majority of the new cases emerging are “mild.”
This sounds like little more than whistling in the dark. Some countries that had previously reported declines or a plateauing of their COVID-19 numbers have sounded the alarm on a recent upsurge of cases. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, now says the virus could be airborne, in the form of even more minuscule droplets, spray or vapor, increasing the risk of infection especially in indoor spaces with poor ventilation systems.
Given these foreboding developments, the national government, despite the spokespersons’ determined effort to put a positive spin on the situation, appears ready to throw up its hands, throw in the towel, and give up primary responsibility for public health.
Roque, for one, has declared that it’s now up to ordinary citizens to look after their health, and that the pace and manner of infections are “all in our hands.” Controls continue to be loosened, with travel for “nonessential reasons” now allowed, although travelers are cautioned that they do so at their own risk and must sign a waiver. Likewise, salons, barbershops, and other such establishments are allowed to offer a longer menu of services so long as the usual protections are followed. Although, it must be stressed, the usual and most effective precautions — frequent washing of hands, wearing a mask in public, and keeping one’s distance from others — must still be enforced and emphasized.
True, at least in the near future, businesses will reopen, commercial activities will resume, and ordinary citizens will be better groomed, fed, and, for a few lucky ones, well-traveled. But our steps must still be kept discreet and calibrated, lest we throw all caution to the wind and find that we have danced ourselves to death.
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