A Pandemic Year

“We need to inoculate ourselves with a generous dose of hope in humanity and faith in the Creator.”

Throughout human history, there have been many calamitous events that have seen a multitude of deaths and widespread destruction. These may be caused by a variety of causes such as cataclysmic natural phenomena, armed conflict, or some health crises of enormous proportions. The Black Death of 1347-1351 killed an estimated hundred million individuals and the Great Pandemic (Flu, 1918-1920) had 50,000,000-100,000,000 fatalities. The two world wars, WWI of 1914 and WWII which began in 1939 and ended in 1945, have the deadliest combined death toll in the annals of human history.

The Philippines is no stranger to these tragic events. The COVID-19 pandemic is only a notch in a long string of many life-changing events that have visited our shores. In fact, the country, geographically, is so extremely vulnerable to these that we have come to learn to adopt and bounce back from every adversity that come our way; thus the vaunted resilience and resourcefulness of Filipinos.

December 1941 is a most unforgettable year. Because on this day the Japanese military forces landed on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, and thus starting the three year (1942 and 1945) reign of terror by the Japanese invaders which culminated in their formal surrender on 2 September 1945. People lived in fear of wanton murder, rape and mayhem. Food was the greatest need in those days. Basic necessities were difficult to come by. In total, the Philippines suffered a tremendous number of human casualties, around 527,000 in all, many of whom were victims of war atrocities, and tremendous physical destruction.

To an extent, the Philippines, and the world at large, is now in a state of war. We all are facing an equally vicious common enemy —the viral invaders. But unlike the Japanese invaders, this time we are facing an invisible enemy; one that is indiscriminate, and that does not respect social or economic status, creed, religion or ethnicity; one that is devoid of ideology or rationality, but behaves only in accordance to its natural composition. But similar to the Great Wars, the pandemic has also disrupted every fabric of modern society, including education, work, travel, how we worship, the economy, and social interaction. To win over the virus, we are all forced to take drastic and unprecedented measures never anticipated and foreseen before.

As of this writing, the pandemic has infected 80,717,733 and killed 1,764,621 worldwide. The Philippines thus far has 469 thousand confirmed cases and nine thousand deaths. And the number continues to rise as spikes of cases are seen in many parts of the globe.

Thanks to the world’s scientists, the breakneck speed with which a vaccine has been developed to fight COVID promises great relief. There is much optimism that this pandemic will end sooner than later; that like the coming of the allied forces during WWII, we will also be liberated from this pandemic.

We hope that the national government and local governments will get its act together and get us the best vaccines on good and reasonable terms. Blackmailing a country like the United States is not helpful. While I am not Sino-phobic, we do need more transparency on the Chinese vaccines on efficacy, safety, and costs before we move forward on procuring and injecting them.

The idea that we will not achieve herd immunity, with 70 percent of our population vaccinated, for three more years is not acceptable. But in the meantime, we do what is necessary—use masks, practice social distance, sanitize your hands regularly, and make sure you have good ventilation. Applying these guidelines, I believe we can do more things than what we have done most of the year—including in work and worship, leisure and travel, etc. But this can only happen if we have good mass testing capacity and contact tracing available. These might be costly but the economic damage of the lockdown far exceeds such costs. The long-term damage to the education of our children is particularly alarming.

The gaps in testing and surveillance is the biggest failure of our government in this pandemic year. When I have conference calls with Vietnamese colleagues, they remind me of this failure as in their country, they proudly say that there is no COVID and any outbreak is immediately exposed and suppressed.

There is a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful an experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” As the Dalai Lama said: When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.

As we face the coming year 2021 and as we continue on with the fight of our lifetimes, we need to inoculate ourselves with a generous dose of hope in humanity and faith in the Creator, whose infinite wisdom and mercy we celebrate in this season, can liberate us from the scourge of COVID-19.


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