What can we expect

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Liza Poor on Unsplash

The pandemic is not just a phenomenon; it is as real as any experience and as varied as people are affected by it. For many, the pandemic has been a painful journey, devastating in terms of lives lost among family and friends and devastating survival for people who started with little and are now down to nothing.

Statistics are really cold. These are numbers we process in our minds, and they are not just local but also global. The more global they are, the colder they get. Imagine there are 7.8 billion people in the world. Covid infections are less than 400 million, and deaths attributed to Covid-19 are less than 7 million. Less than 5% infected, less than 1.5% killed. Cold.

Over 350,000,000 million have gotten infected so far, and over 5,600,000 have been killed. The whole world gets totally disrupted – medically, economically, politically, and most of all, psychologically.

In the Philippines, there are less than 60,000 deaths from 110,000,000 Filipinos. The numbers are large, the percentages are small, but Covid-19 has become very personal because the total equals fear. Yet, it seems that, by now, we know someone infected or who had died of Covid-19.

The last few months, though, have been very special. When they first detected Omicron in South Africa in November, the world braced itself for another rollercoaster ride. The Delta variant before it was particularly virulent, transmissible, and deadly. Almost two years into the pandemic, scientists were still scrambling to understand enough of Covid-19, and no one knew what the new variant’s impact would be.

However, Omicron did not wait for scientists to understand it before it literally plowed through the first nations it invaded. However, its awesome speed and transmissibility left behind a trail of human damage that was much less than expected, much less than experienced. It quickly burned itself out in South Africa and Great Britain in two months – with surprisingly mild symptoms and damage.

“We are elated that Omicron is a mild variant, but we are also afraid that something more destructive could still emerge. Still on tiptoe but much more hopeful this time.”

Metro Manila went from being very relaxed to being very scared. However, this time, the South Africa and Great Britain experience proved valuable because it replicated itself in our metropolis. One research group estimated that over a million Metro Manila residents must have been infected, which seemed plausible. An estimated 30,000 new infections daily for almost two weeks meant not just 30,000 people but probably 30,000 families are getting infected daily.

However, in three weeks, a new trend began, a welcome trend, daily infections in Metro Manila going down faster than expected. While national infection statistics remained high, it points to regions going through Omicron and creating surges while Metro Manila infections steadily glide downward.

Do we see the beginning of the end? Many scientists think so, and many more ordinary people believe so – or wish that the scientists are right this time. There must be no more significant global wish than Covid-19 to disappear forever. We are elated that Omicron is a mild variant, but we are also afraid that something more destructive could still emerge. Still on tiptoe but much more hopeful this time.

The world, though, is far from safe. Covid-19 is still there, it is still in a pandemic state, and another global threat is fast rising in the borders of Eastern and Western Europe. The Russia-Ukraine tension has become an East-West tension, Russia versus NATO tension. One mistake and violence flares up, almost inevitable at this stage.

It will not be a nuclear war immediately, but any war involving Russia and NATO can turn nuclear at any point. There is enough anger to push red buttons, but maybe greater fear is restraining the players from annihilating each other. Covid-19 will be a secondary factor when global players go to war. I am sure that the generals of all the participating countries are all in their war rooms.

As for us, we are onlookers and possible victims at the same time. In the first place, we are relatively far from the flashpoints along the Ukraine and Belarus borders. Yet, that distance will not save Filipinos from being in the thick of it because there are Filipinos in all the countries involved and the countries around them. In the second place, we have Western Allies and China around us. They will be involved no matter what happens, for survival or to exploit a sad situation.

“We are in catharsis, but we have not yet even peaked, just slowly raising the temperature of our own crisis. I suppose it is inevitable.”

So, here we are. We are caught up in our presidential elections and the deep partisan sentiments that have festered over several decades. We have our political pandemic, and there will be a confrontation at many levels. Whoever wins will not have an easy time, maybe not even a safe time, because we have demons to exorcise from our systems. We will also suffer consequences for allowing fake news and twisted values to become a parallel operating system in our societal life.

We are now so close to our perfect storm. We are in catharsis, but we have not yet even peaked, just slowly raising the temperature of our own crisis. I suppose it is inevitable. As children of our parents, we were trained that we should not lie to one another in our families. Also, we were taught that we should not be stealing from one another. And, most of all, we have been taught not to hurt or kill one another.

The schools taught us the same thing. And religion through our preferred churches taught the same to us. Today, we teach that to our own children and their children. Yet, I wonder what for if, in the end, our actions will show we never meant it, that lying, stealing, and killing are behavior we excuse in others. Worse, many can actually support leaders who represent the opposite of what we teach our own children.

And we expect the future to be kind to us?

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