Like playing a violin

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo courtesy of aa.com.tr

It has been six months from the March lockdown, so long ago, it seems, but there is no clear end in sight. That is the power of a virus with awesome and puzzling transmissibility, even if its kill rate is not as bad. It is not unusual to get new information about the virus, even if the global scientific and medical communities have focused on it. That means what we know is nowhere enough to feel confident in relating to Covid-19.

We have constant reports about vaccines being developed in most developed countries. It is a race among those who are involved. Perhaps, it is the financial gains to be made for the first good vaccines out there that are driving the work of scientists, technicians, and doctors. Perhaps, too, it is a deep desire to defeat an enemy that paralyzes societies, maims, and kills people. For sure, it is political as well.

“What I am more concerned about today are the consequences on our people, our economy, and our foreseeable future. I am amazed at the consistent show of power by Covid-19, its defiance of human attempts to resist or wipe it off the face of the earth.”

After closely monitoring this virus from its Wuhan days, its novel coronavirus stage, and its now official name, Covid-19, I have long wanted to stop paying undue attention to it. After all, I am not a doctor or a scientist, and not directly impacted by new treatments or the race for new vaccines. Still, it is simply impossible to drop all attention on a virus that disrupts our very way of living and understanding life.

What I am more concerned about today are the consequences on our people, our economy, and our foreseeable future. I am amazed at the consistent show of power by Covid-19, its defiance of human attempts to resist or wipe it off the face of the earth. I see the number of infections grow to 28 million, killing nearly 900,000 human beings, and it is not over. Covid-19 is not even tired.

Rather, it is ready to mutate and confuse medical science even more. This flexibility for its own survival has demolished the absolute confidence of humanity that vaccines will eliminate it. Instead, what seems more probable is a continuous mutation that will force constant upgrades of vaccines. Despite the acceptance that vaccines may possibly be coming sooner than later, there is also a popular belief that we must deal with Covid-19 for a much longer time.

“I have this mental image of a musician with a violin playing a difficult musical composition. He is like the government trying to keep the balance between health and economy, bringing the bow up then bring the bow down.”

The Philippines and most other countries are grappling with both challenges of containing the pandemic and re-opening economies. Apparently, there is no effective formula yet on how to do both simultaneously. We have tried re-opening and then saw our infections climbing faster than we expected. Then, we applied stricter quarantine rules and witness bankruptcies, business closures, and joblessness littering the whole terrain of commerce.

I have this mental image of a musician with a violin playing a difficult musical composition. He is like the government trying to keep the balance between health and economy, bringing the bow up then bring the bow down. He cannot stop the continuous movement of the bow for as long as he wants to produce music – for as long as he wants a balance between contrasting notes. Government is really like that violin player, playing it by ear, so to speak.

There is a third component to the dynamics of health and economy – and that is politics. The politician and the bureaucrat are the faces of government. Politics is simply unavoidable. What is avoidable is partisanship that pollutes politics. With partisanship naturally comes the blurring of truth, facts, and objectivity – and this blurring is dangerous in the management of a pandemic. I hope that the administration and opposition will minimize their intramurals today.

Whether we like it or not, life goes on. Whether we like it or not, the government is in charge. And whether we like it or not, we must watch out for ourselves and our families. The best chance we have is our community, and only if we protect and defend one another against the virus, against hunger, against our habit of not being there for one another. We are inside a storm building up to be a typhoon.

The containment by quarantine, meant to isolate the virus until it dissipates because it finds no carrier, also resulted in isolating people from their workplace and the incomes they were earning. Recently, I read that the number of unemployed experienced a sudden and dramatic improvement, triggered by the partial opening of business. At the same time, Covid-19 infection rates have been on the rise and the opening of business will necessarily push infections to go higher. At what point will we shut down again?

Despite the gloom, despite the fear, the need to survive is stronger. We can enhance that power for survival by looking out for each other. We must set aside the negatives and search for opportunities and allies to ride out the storm. There are no geniuses out there with clear answers, no magicians that will make our troubles disappear. It is time we imagine ways and means to stand on our two feet, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors. Remember if they get infected, we are next. Remember, too, that the infected, if they go hungry, will have to roam around the metropolis until they can eat and feed their families.

“History shows that the highest levels of unity we have achieved always come in the worst of times. Covid-19 is not any different from a typhoon, an earthquake, or a volcano eruption. Inside a calamity, we must be one for the other.”

Confusion naturally divides and sets us apart with conflicting views and priorities. At the same time, our fears can be the stage that will drive us towards that most elusive unity that generation after generation can only dream about. History shows that the highest levels of unity we have achieved always come in the worst of times. Covid-19 is not any different from a typhoon, an earthquake, or a volcano eruption. Inside a calamity, we must be one for the other.

Let us look out for the children, the elderly, the poor and hungry. Patriotism at this point is loving our country by caring for the sons and daughters of the motherland in their hour of great need and desperation.

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