The World Health Organization (WHO), as of March 18, at 2:34 a.m. GMT, tallied 120,383,919 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 223 countries, areas, or territories, of which 2,664,386 victims or 2.21% have died. The Philippines is No. 30 in comparative rank for its 630,321 confirmed cases (about 5.8% of 109.2 million population) and 12,848 cumulative total deaths (2.03%) in the same timeframe of one year since the pandemic was officially announced by the WHO on March 15, 2020.
Why, in that pathetic group of 30 most infected countries, was the Philippines reporting 4,427 new cases per day in the last 24 hours of the cumulative tally, when Spain, for example, which is 8th most infected today, had not had a new infection in the last 24 hours of the WHO tally? China, where the virus originated, and which was at the top of the list of infected countries a year ago at the declaration of the pandemic, has relaxed to near-bottom of the list of 223 infected countries, with 102,433 accumulated confirmed cases (merely 0.008% of 1.3 billion population) since the beginning of the pandemic, with 4,849 deaths and only 22 new cases for the observed 24-hour infection rate.
In the first six months of the pandemic, the battle cry railed by health experts was “Flatten the Curve”! The infected countries who obediently followed the WHO recommendations for quarantines and lockdowns to “flatten the curve” by restricting social contact which would spread the disease benefitted much from the “non-invasive” intervention of isolation and the wearing of protective masks. The best example of this successful strategy is China, whose autocratic leadership imposed its iron-fist total lockdown on Hubei province, where the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 was first identified in the Wuhan marketplaces. That self-discipline is what brought China down very fast on the list of infected countries. Compare that with the observed initial resistance of the US (during the term of President Donald Trump) to quarantines and the wearing of protective masks: by the first half of the pandemic year, the US was at the top of the COVID-19 infection list, never yet to have “flattened the curve,” with now 29,208,543 confirmed cases (8% of 328.2 million population), 530,815 deaths, and infections within the last 24 hours at 49,651 new cases, according to the WHO. Two strong-man presidents, Chinese and American, with opposite strategies for the pandemic.
In the miserable one year of on-and-off lockdowns, countries struggled to balance urgent economic survival with the obviously more urgent health and physical survival of the people. And so, the vaccines meant to snuff out the fire of the virus had to be hastily delivered to the world by epidemiologists, even while these “emergency use” vaccines have yet to be fully tested and cleared in laboratories (that will take years more), as vaccines take time to develop (as long as seven years, medical experts say). Governments were ordering vaccines despite initial doubts on claimed efficacies by manufacturer-suppliers. A hysterical cry of “Take that jab!” has drowned the more passive “Flatten the curve.”
Even as vaccine manufacturers insist on governments providing indemnities to protect them, the vaccine manufacturers, from any present and future claims from those who may suffer adverse reactions from the “jab” (inoculation), governments must queue in humbling mendicancy for a quota to be allocated to those countries who ordered their vaccines earlier. And sustainable supply is not even guaranteed, in the mad rush of urgent humongous demand.
Yet the proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not even known, according to the WHO. Herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated; the remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated. For polio, the threshold is about 80%, the WHO explains. For COVID-19, the jabbing would be conditional and the threshold estimated. People will have to wear protective face masks for heaven knows how many more years to come, until it will have been determined by epidemiologists that herd immunity for the world has been safely established. Maybe in five to seven years, they say.
Herd hysteria in the world seemed to have peaked as the first anniversary of COVID-19 came just this month, and still nothing was clear as to what can be hoped for and who can be trusted to guide and guard all towards some light at the end of the tunnel. The almost-unbelievable but almost-palpable 180-degrees about-turn of the world from distrusting and spurning the vaccine to now fighting to “get that jab” has reminded all of the basic praxis of survival versus theory and the mind — you gotta live with what you have. Or simply put, “You just have to live, period.”
Those deeply religious have sublimated their fears and doubts to faith and trust in God Almighty who absolutely loves and cares for His creation. In the end, Good will triumph, and peace and harmony will cover the universe. That is universal Truth. But the mystic rationale for living in spiritual peace might unintentionally lull to slothful complacency and numbness to the reality of the physical world where daily living with its individual motivations and objectives might not harmonize with the collective consciousness. “Life goes on” is a personal declaration.
Observing the enmity and evil still going on in various countries undeterred by the “slight” (probably in their eyes) inconvenience of the pandemic, it becomes evident to even the most hopeful and optimistic that “Life goes on” can be misinterpreted as license by some in our shared world for the end-justifying-the-means towards personal ambitions and continued pursuits of power and wealth. After all, the powerful and the rich are the least affected by the constraints and dangers of the pandemic, and their advantages before COVID-19 are even more enhanced by their possession and control of resources made even more scarce to the less privileged in the time of the pandemic.
The pandemic has renovated social and political norms and relationships by its virulent threat to basic survival. Autocracy has been needed even in consultative democracies to enforce control and administration of pandemic strategies, and in the first year of necessary strong-man rule that political leaders have assumed, habits and ways have changed and formed. Look at what happened in the struggling democracy of Myanmar, which suffered a brazen coup d’état of Feb. 1, led by commander-in-chief (since 2011) Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, a day before the winners of the November 2020 democratic elections — members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) — were to be sworn in to the new government. President Win Myint was charged with breaching campaign guidelines (electoral fraud) and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with breaching emergency COVID-19 laws under section 25 of the Natural Disaster Management Law, and charged with intent to incite public unrest. As of March 16, at least 184 people have been killed in subsequent protests against the coup and at least 1,700 have been arbitrarily detained. Three prominent NLD members also died while in police custody in March, according to Reuters and other news agencies.
The tug-of-war between the military and the civilian leaderships in Myanmar has been there since it declared independence from Britain in 1948. Through the ensuing turbulent years, the military assumed leadership of a caretaker government to resolve perennial political infighting. Despite several democratic elections, the military has stepped in when civilian rule was seen to be weak. What better time to take over, in the role of the needed controlling government, than in the siege of the COVID-19 pandemic?
But the democratic Myanmar elections and its reversal by a forceful coup d’état is balanced by the democratic US elections in the same fitful month of November 2020, when Americans spoke their minds about preferring a truly democratic leader with no autocratic tendencies, who would lead their country through the COVID-19 pandemic and on to economic health and survival in the world New Normal — at least for the next four years of the new US President Joe Biden. No strong-man needed.
Philippine national elections will be held in May 2022 — most probably still under the gray haze of COVID-19.
Get that jab (get vaccinated) and be healthy of body and mind to keep to moral choices in our fight to keep our rights and liberties in a truly free and happy life!
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.