April 5, 2021

The root of all wishful thinking about this pandemic we are battling is that the behavior of the virus is fully controllable. We do not know that much at least not yet.

Some experts are now telling us the virus could continue mutating infinitely. It could end up like the many variants of influenza for which vaccines have to be adapted each year.

We know that those previously infected with COVID-19 could be infected again after about six months. We do not know if the vaccines we have on hand could invest immunity beyond six months. The trials conducted on them have been going on for about that period.

Over 150 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the US so far. The vaccination effort there hit a record of 4 million doses a day last week. Yet, over the weekend, disease control experts were warning Americans they could be in the eye of a hurricane, a moment of calm before infections surge again. In a majority of American states, daily infection numbers were rising.

From Easter Sunday, Germany, France, Italy and Turkey will impose a new round of lockdown measures. The four countries were registering over 30,000 new infection cases per day. The situation in some Eastern European countries is even worse.

Canada is imposing new restrictions as well over most of its provinces. In Brazil, the pandemic is a horror story. India is postponing exports of vaccines in the face of what appears to be a domestic surge in infection.

The recent surge across the globe is attributed to the new variants of the virus that are more transmissible and possibly deadlier. It is entirely possible that newer variants could defy existing vaccines.

Like all of nature, viruses adapt in order to persist. Mutation is evolution.

In addition to the virus that is now driving this pandemic, scientists have catalogued over 800,000 other viruses that could leap from the animal world to humans. Any one of them could spark another pandemic in the future. Human civilization – congested and interdependent – is more than ever vulnerable to outbreaks of viral infections.

The Philippines is particularly vulnerable. At any one time, we have 10 million migrant workers living in nearly all countries in the world. Before the pandemic broke out, we were aiming to attract 10 million tourists per year. We host close to a million expatriate workers, mainly from China. Filipinos are the most enthusiastic travelers there are.

In a word, there is really no way we could keep viruses out (or in). Even North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom, is not spared the pandemic.

Last year, Germany was praised for its handling of the pandemic. Today, it is trying to manage a deadly surge in infections.

The countries that appear to be managing the infections well are able to do so by keeping tight (and costly) border controls. It is nearly impossible, for instance, to travel to New Zealand these days. Australia shuts down whole cities on the first evidence of community transmission. China has repurposed its awesome internal surveillance system to keep daily infection rates at mere double digits.

Some countries, notably the US and Germany, are able to muster respectable growth rates even as they grapple with the pandemic. The Philippines is not as fortunate. Our expected recovery in the second quarter has been nipped in the bud by the latest surge in infections.

Enhanced community quarantine is being kept in place for another week for Metro Manila and surrounding provinces. Unfortunately but understandably, the epicenter of the economy is also the epicenter of infections. The infection rate is a function of population density and population mobility. Any restriction on mobility in the NCR will choke the economy.

In the face of the horrible surge we are experiencing, however, there is no real debate about what must be done. The lockdown is painful but necessary. Our recovery will be postponed by it, but lives will be saved. It will be absolute negligence if the lockdown is not done.

The return to lockdown of course opens every opportunity for our most idle politicians to score cheap points sniping at those charged with managing the health crisis. Some proclaim the entire response a complete failure. Others propose some nonsensical “scorecard” for managing the crisis.

One voluble but hardly sensible party-list congressman criticizes the lockdown, saying government should concentrate on “health measures.” The quip does not enlighten. It is a cheap shot, “sound and fury signifying nothing.” It builds on a false dichotomy between restrictions on mobility and “health measures.” This is fraudulent.

What should we do in the face of a surge in infections? Wait to build new hospital capacity? Wait to increase testing dramatically?

The first response anywhere is to restrict circulation. The more close interaction happens, the stronger the surge. The lockdown is the best first response. It is the circuit breaker to the surge. It keeps the number of infected persons manageable so that health care may be provided them.

Mobility restriction is one tool in a large toolbox of responses. All those tools are in play. Imposing a lockdown does not mean all the other “health measures” are excluded.

This pesky virus is not fully controllable. It will mutate and adapt and evolve. It will infect at first opportunity. It will thrive when humans congregate.

We move with the ebb and flow of infections. There is no other choice. We cannot command the virus to cease and desist.


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