THE VIEW FROM RIZAL
The World Health Organization (WHO) will make an important decision on Friday this week which will affect the lives of billions of people around the globe.
According to the spokesperson of the international body, its emergency committee is set to hold the gab and thereafter make a recommendation to its director-general. There are talks that WHO just might consider declaring the international public health emergency spawned by the Covid-19 virus is over and that the pandemic no longer exists.
The scheduled meeting appears to have generated a lot of hope and a pervasive air of optimism, particularly in healthcare circles. It cannot be helped. After all, as early as September last year, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus bravely announced at a press conference that “we’re not yet there, but the end is in sight.”
The optimism may have been boosted by recent developments in our country. Just a few days ago, the
Health department reported that Covid-19 cases last week were down by 16 percent from the previous week. Our hospitals are not crowded as indicated by the 16.1 percent utilization rates. Some 95 percent of our total population have already been vaccinated against the virus. There were no major surges in the number of infected persons despite the physically close interaction we had with other people during the Christmas holidays.
Yes, there are indicators that the virus is no longer as menacing as it was three years ago. We hope the rest of the world might share in our optimism and that WHO might find it timely to declare that the pandemic is over.
We do not know how a post-pandemic Philippines might look like. We are yet to find out what a hoped-for declaration of the end of the international public emergency might bring about and how that would shape the way we do business, how we live our daily lives and how we interact with one another.
After all, it seems we have already adjusted well to the so-called “new normal.” We have embraced the changes to our lifestyle as a result of the restrictions to our physical mobility and have adapted our ways of engaging in commerce to the realities of the times.
What is probable is that we may experience a diminution of “fear.”
We will feel less afraid than we have been during the era of the pandemic.
The shared or collective experience of diminished fear may have positive and negative effects.
On the positive side, we might see significant increases in business activities, as well as the resumption and reemergence of forms of enterprises that slowed down or closed due to the fear of the Covid-19 virus and its variants. This, in turn, may spur the growth of income opportunities for people and open doors for more fulfilling social interaction.
On the negative side, the diminution of fear may lead us to let our guards down and throw caution into the air.
This is what worries some international public health experts.
This is why international public health experts and WHO advisers are divided on whether or not the international agency should go ahead and announce that the global health emergency is over.
It may be too early, objectors to the rumored move say. They point out that Covid-19 is still infecting huge numbers of people in Mainland China, saying it may be on the verge of a dreaded “second wave.” Such a development could mean a million or so of China’s population could die this year due to infection by the Covid-19 virus.
Two WHO Philippines experts, Dr. Sangjun Moon and Dr. Rajendra Yadav warned last year that “the Omicron variant is still around.” “It can cause severe illness and even death, especially among more vulnerable and higher risk groups,” they pointed out.
“The Covid-19 virus is an unstable virus that changes rapidly and limits our ability to predict what will become of it next,” they added.
They recommended that “countries, communities and individuals should not give up or neglect precautions at this crucial juncture of the pandemic.”
The head of WHO himself warned that “it is dangerous to assume that the Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame.”
Our view is that we must go on and continue to adapt to the changes in our lives that were brought about by our need to survive the pandemic.
We had long been ready for those changes and the pandemic may have simply accelerated their advent. Among these changes have been the growth of cashless transactions, the use of digital technology in health, education and governance, and the adoption of the work-from-home mode.
While we embrace these changes, we must build into our daily lives our passion for caution and precaution. We can then say that we are ready for the post-pandemic era.
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