No end to the pandemic?

BREAKTHROUGHElfren S. Cruz – The Philippine Star

November 28, 2021 | 12:00am

There is now a growing consensus even among health experts that the COVID-19 pandemic will not go away anytime in the future. This is depressing news but the world has learned to cope with pandemics like the flu. This one, however, seems to be different. This seems like a pandemic that the world will have to live with maybe forever.

In previous pandemics the world was able to cooperate and jointly fight the pandemic together. This is different perhaps because of the present geopolitical situation. There was no global cooperation. Rich countries acquired more than the amount of vaccines necessary for their own use. Vaccine hoarding became an international issue that was largely ignored by the rich countries.

There are, however, valid reasons for the increasing belief that this virus will not end or will take years before there is even a glimmer of hope.

There are still many countries that do not have enough vaccines to have a meaningful vaccination program. In Africa and parts of Asia, the vaccination process has barely begun. Then even in the rich countries millions of people are refusing to be vaccinated mainly for political reasons. Any hope of herd immunity is rapidly disappearing.

People forget that herd immunity must be global if it is to be completely effective. Herd immunity in a specific country is effective if that country imposes a total lockdown which is impossible if it is meant to be forever.

More than a dozen animal species have been diagnosed having contracted the COVID 19 virus. This is a very dangerous development. There has been some evidence that some animals have passed on this virus to humans. The ramifications are not yet fully understood. It could mean that eventually some animal species in close contact with humans may need to be vaccinated. I just read a report that in Denmark more than 200 humans have been infected by minks, an animal species.

There is also the added danger that new mutations are rapidly appearing in other countries. Compared to the original variant, some of these mutations are reported to be more transmissible and even resistant to current vaccines. Some countries that have done excellent work on controlling the pandemic, at the start, are now facing new outbreaks due to new mutations. Countries which imposed tight border controls and lifted them now face the prospect of having to reimpose border controls. Even China which originally imposed the strictest border controls and then lifted them now have discovered they have to start reimposing them.

Taiwan and Vietnam experienced very few COVID deaths before the middle of 2021. They used tight border controls and also very well organized testing, tracing and isolating. However, towards the end of last year these two countries experienced a resurgence of the pandemic.

When the vaccines were first announced and distributed, I do not remember hearing about the need for booster shots. In certain countries, like the United States, they are being made mandatory. At the beginning children were considered immune from this virus. Now, again in some countries, children from ages 5 to 12 are being required to be vaccinated.

In the Philippines right now we are at Alert Level 2 which has allowed a lot of restrictions to be lifted. Malls are now open and restaurants and public transportation restrictions have been eased. If you go out in public, you can see that malls, restaurants, salons and places for children are almost full. Public transportation is almost as crowded as pre-pandemic days. In fact, the government is planning to reimpose the number coding system to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. I look at buses and jeepneys on the streets and I hardly notice any social distancing.

There is talk that during the Christmas season, the government will announce that at least Metro Manila will be under Alert Level One, which means that the situation will be considered almost normal. This means that there will be more crowds, especially during the shopping days.

There is almost a consensus that the pandemic situation will experience a resurgence right after the Christmas season. Restrictions and lockdowns will be back.

I have just read a report that several new variants have emerged that cause more severe illnesses. According to a group of epidemiologists in the United States, these new variants also reduced the effectiveness of treatments or vaccines. Their list includes B.1.1.7 which was first detected in the United Kingdom. The other variants detected were B.1.351 detected in South Africa; B.1.429 from California; P.1 from Brazil and B.1.617.2 from India.

There are an estimated 3.5 million deaths resulting from this COVID-19 pandemic. This is a very inaccurate estimate. The real figures could be much higher. There are areas like Africa where there is hardly any figures on casualties. In the Philippines many poor people do not report if they have the virus because they fear losing their jobs. This is most probably typical in many developing countries.

The world is suffering from the devastating effect of this pandemic. The most important challenge for leaders and people alike is that ways must be found to gradually end this pandemic or else it will become a permanent part of our lives.

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Final 2021 writing dates via Zoom: Young Writers’ Hangout: Dec. 4 & 11, 2-3 p.m. with Sofi Bernedo and Neni SR Cruz, respectively.

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