“It seemed we were stirring back to life.”
And just like that, all our hopes of finally being able to proceed with the so-called new normal have been upended by this new COVID-19 variant, the Omicron.
As recently as early last week, we were already taking initial steps to open up all aspects of life that were put on hold by the months-long lockdown. We did away with the face shields. We allowed greater mobility among the public. Schools started preparing for face-to-face classes, starting with their pilot runs. Resorts, restaurants, hotels and other establishments relaxed their requirements to accommodate more customers.
It seemed we were stirring back to life. The timing seemed fortuitous —the holidays were coming around, and it was a good time to see relatives, friends and colleagues in the flesh once again, so long as we continue to take precaution. There was cause for hope for the coming year—for the first time, it looked as though things were finally, decisively looking up.
Until we heard of omicron.
We know little yet of this variant that reports say has now reached several European countries and, closer to home, Hong Kong. While it is thought to be more contagious than the unlamented Delta variant which brought much damage to the world earlier this year, we have no information yet on whether it is deadlier, whether it strikes the vaccinated and unvaccinated indiscriminately, or if it renders certain segments of the population more vulnerable than others.
It is precisely because the information is scant that this new variant is scary. What is the extent of its potential damage to our country and to the world? Have we learned our lesson? Have we strengthened our health care systems? Can we afford another round of extreme lockdowns, an overflow of ICU cases? Will our battered medical frontliners be in any shape to wage battle again?
Is there no end to this crisis?
We hope, however, that today’s circumstances might make a difference. First, even as we are spooked by the specter of this new variant, the Philippines on Sunday logged the lowest number of fresh cases this year. We have ample time to anticipate and prepare. Let us not squander this.
Second, we are starting a major vaccination drive today amid the arrival of millions of doses from various sources. This is supposed to complement the relatively good coverage in Metro Manila while also closing the inoculation gap between the capital region and the rest of the country.
As for our leaders and decision-makers, another specter should haunt them: that of the coming elections. Their political success will no longer depend on their gimmickry, but on how they are perceived to respond to this protracted crisis that has taken much from us, and threatens to take more.
The rest of us should brace ourselves for the eventual coming of this variant to our shores, given global mobility and our porous borders. We will see this, too, as an opportunity to judge political candidates for who and what they really are—whether they are mere stunt-pullers, or genuine public servants.