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Davao City, Philippines

Second wave?!

May 23, 2020 - Saturday 4:05 AM by E.R. Nartatez

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“This fight against COVID-19 is a marathon.” Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven

Fasten your seatbelts folks, it looks like we’re in for a long and rough ride!

Secretary Duque got a lot of flack recently for announcing that we’re in or are already riding the second wave. This was a shocker to all—from our lawmakers, the media, and the general public—since all of the official talking points of government personalities—the President included—was that we’re still in the process of taming the first wave (i.e., flattening the curve). And the very reason the government implemented draconian measures was precisely to rein in the contagion and prevent another spike in the number of infections, i.e., prevent another wave.

It’s no wonder then that the reactions of both Sec. Medialdia and Sen. Bong Go were more like (paraphrasing), ‘What the heck!? We’ve absolutely no idea what Sec. Duque is talking about!’ They were caught completely off-guard.  They both expressed the sentiment that all the government’s efforts were in fact, to avoid the very scenario of a second wave. 

The heat on the Health Secretary was intense enough that the DOH had to make an apology over the confusion caused by Duque’s gaffe. And in a virtual hearing of the House of Representatives, the Secretary himself had to explain what he meant by his ‘second wave’ statement.

It’s not my purpose to weigh in on the Duque debacle. But I’d like to address this matter of a ‘second (or third or fourth or…) wave’. 

The reason we went on lockdown and quarantine was to control the contagion, to flatten the curve and so protect our medical services and resources from getting swamped—buying precious time to understand this bug better, how it works/affects the body, how it spreads, and so forth, so as to better fight the damn thing, and perhaps develop a vaccine just in time (which is just not realistic by the way). 

But now there seems to be this expectation (more implicit than explicit, which makes it more disconcerting) that if we just work hard enough and long enough on implementing all the draconian measures, coupled with all the handwashing and social distancing etc., then somehow, miraculously perhaps, the virus might just suddenly die away, disappear, and vanish—and so we go back to the same ‘ol same ‘ol life that we’ve always known.

I don’t mean to rain on this parade, but this sentiment appears to be quite naïve and unrealistic.

In fact, many experts are saying that all these aggressive mitigating measures such as lockdowns and the quarantines are only delaying the inevitable, i.e., the moment there’s an easing up of these measures allowing people to move about, there will be another wave of contagion. IOW, we’re simply prolonging the problem—there’s no avoiding another wave.

And that’s the reason why some experts question the long-term efficacy of such strong mitigating measures. In fact, these drastic responses to the pandemic simply create more problems than it really solves (e.g., the massive socio-economic fallout on a worldwide scale).

Government is now working out the easing of restrictions all over the country—moving towards a GCQ. But we’re discovering that this is easier said than done, as Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell rightly pointed out, “It’s apparently reasonably easy to start a lockdown, but stopping it is much more difficult.” 

People started filling up malls the moment they opened. After locking people up in their homes for such a long period, perhaps it should not be surprising to see them flocking the malls the first chance they get—to the utter dismay and chagrin of our public officials! This so disturbed the President (and the LGUs) that he threatened another lockdown if people’s apparent complacent and irresponsible behavior continues. But then this ‘close-open’ strategy will simply not do in the long run—we can’t keep locking people up and shutting establishments every now and then—it’s neither feasible nor possible and it’s simply counterproductive in the long run.

Another problem is how do you restart the economy both nationally and locally after such a long hiatus. It’s very sad that Marco Polo decided to stop operations here in Davao. And if such an established business as Marco Polo folds, how much more the other, smaller establishments? The casualties are probably already quite massive.

So, what do we do? Thinking out loud, my initial thoughts are along the following lines:

We must recognize the fact that government can’t solve the problem on its own, i.e., by simply enforcing draconian rules, curtailing people’s freedoms and mobilities, closing down establishments for an indefinite period of time—perhaps until the virus ‘disappears’ or at least when it’s already ‘safe’ to go back to business as usual. Such a massive, and drastic approach was perhaps necessary initially, but definitely not as a long-term strategy. Government itself knows that for a fact.

We must also deeply recognize that we the people must work with and help government fight this battle. How?

First, let’s remember that government—warts and all—is not our enemy. Our leaders are doing their best to defeat the virus. Sure, there will be problems and issues, and that they will indeed drop the ball here and there. But realistically, what do we expect when the scope of the problem is of such a massive scale? Our leaders need all the prayers that we can muster for all of them—starting with the President.

Second, we must fully face the fact that we’re in this for the long haul—maybe two years of on-and-off guerilla warfare-like battle with the virus.

Third, we must learn to take personal responsibility and understand the risks involved in this fight. This goes beyond government; in this situation government simply can’t shield us from all the risks due to the ubiquitous presence of this nasty bug. We must educate ourselves on the best practices on how to avoid contamination (wearing mask, social distancing, frequent handwashing, avoiding crowds, etc) and also how to improve and strengthen our immune system to fight off an infection if and when it happens (healthy living, exercise, supplements, getting enough sunlight on a regular basis, etc). Other ways of strengthening the immune system are having healthy relationships (with family and friends) even if only through social media, maintaining faith and spirituality (in prayer, worship, and meditation of Scriptures that increase hope and trust in God who is Sovereign in all of life). When we’re psychologically and emotionally healthy, it also tends to improve the immune system's response to threats to our health.

Fourth, existentially we must also accept the fact that this is a battle, and as in all battles there will be victories and there will be defeats, there will be triumphs and tragedies. In all battles, there will be casualties. Battles are always messy.

This should all be taken as part of what we’ve been calling the ‘new normal’. We must squarely face up and live with that reality—at least for another year or two. 

Let me leave you with the writings of a man who, the moment he became a follower of Christ, lived his entire life being haunted with the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head (talk about living a life under constant mortal threat!)—

“But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence… So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (Paul, 2 Corinthians 4:13-18)