Coexisting with COVID-19
COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that plunged the world into a pandemic some three years ago. While most people will likely experience mild to moderate respiratory issues and will recover without the need for special treatment, senior citizens and those with underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop serious illnesses. In a significant number of cases, COVID-19 has proven fatal.
I can recall the day my husband and I returned to the Philippines from our diplomatic posting on Jan. 30, 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed by the Department of Health (DOH). By March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) has characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. The following day, then President Rodrigo Duterte placed Metro Manila under community quarantine. This was extended to the entire island of Luzon by March 17. What followed was a long period of community quarantine or lockdowns of varying degrees of restriction depending on the situation, until it was replaced by a more flexible alert level system toward the end of 2021.
COVID-19 was a global problem and an unprecedented event, which caught many countries flatfooted as can be seen by the various responses and measures taken by governments around the world.
According to Dr. John Nkengasong, former director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the disparate responses of individual states globally revealed several fault lines: protectionism versus global cooperation, and politics versus public health. Regardless of the response or measures taken, what is evident is that no one was spared from the onslaught of the disease: the loss of loved ones or friends, the toll on our mental and emotional well-being, and its impact on our daily lives due to the resulting economic slowdown.
It’s been three years now, and it appears the world has turned a corner. Many countries, including the Philippines, have relaxed various measures and restrictions to prevent and control the spread of the disease. I’ve been based in Sweden the past year and the general attitude toward the disease is similar to that of the common cold. Several countries have considered it an endemic problem. High vaccination rates and a better understanding of the disease may have helped contribute to this shift in attitude, though from the perspective of a government, the economic issue cannot be discounted. The response to the pandemic greatly affected both local and global economies, especially in countries that imposed lockdowns.
Opening up economies to stimulate growth and recovery became strong arguments to ease up on restrictions even just a year into the pandemic. With the war in Ukraine bringing added disruption to global supply chains and food security, it is highly doubtful that governments would be resorting to lockdowns in case of the disease’s future resurgence. Even China had to ease up on its zero COVID-19 policy, even as the WHO has yet to officially declare an end to the pandemic and still considers the disease a global health emergency. As the pandemic enters its fourth year, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is hopeful that the world will transition out of the emergency phase of the pandemic this year.
So where does this leave us? At this point, it all boils down to a personal level because we will need to accept that we’d have to learn to coexist with COVID-19. The world wants to move on and regain that sense of normality that existed pre-pandemic even though the risks still remain, particularly for those in the vulnerable group. It now falls on us to determine the risks we face and how we want to deal with them, just as we do with any other disease that we face, and the trials and challenges that we have to contend with in our daily lives.
Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine consulate general in Los Angeles, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.
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