To say that the COVID-19 pandemic is humanity’s greatest challenge since World War II may be hard to understand for the so-called baby boomers, or those born from 1946 until 1964, and even for the three succeeding generations until now.
I can only imagine what our parents must have felt when war clouds hung heavy in the horizon in 1941, with the nation bracing for the imminent invasion by Japanese forces. What would happen to us, they must have asked each other, worry written all over their faces while they packed up their belongings and figured out where to go and how they could possibly stay out of harm’s way.
These days, those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19 must really feel grief beyond words as even wakes and funerals are prohibited with social distancing and lockdowns of communities in place.
Even those who have obeyed the injunction of authorities to stay at home and hence stop the further spread of the coronavirus no doubt feel an admixture of fear, panic and paranoia: Fear of catching the virus, panic that you could be the next patient, paranoia that the world is crashing all around you.
COVID-19 has been a great equalizer, respecting no one, rich or poor. Our lives have all turned topsy-turvy from this contagion, and there’s no escaping its silent invasion.
Let’s leave it all to God, some would say. But faith alone obviously is not enough. This life-and-death situation calls for the global scientific community to share their findings in laboratory experiments to what has now become a shared goal: To save more lives and allow humanity to defeat this unseen enemy.
Finding ways to determine the scope of the contagion and ultimately a cure for it is now the single biggest challenge of our time.
At the University of the Philippines Institute of Health, scientists were able to develop a testing kit that is now being used by our Department of Health. It costs much less than imported ones, and therefore will allow more Filipinos to be tested at less cost in public hospitals.
One month after the lockdown of the main island of Luzon, the government has accelerated the acquisition of testing kits and personal protective equipment to augment existing supplies.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine is eyeing at processing about 10,000 COVID-19 tests a day for the next three months as it prepares to distribute 900,000 test kits in accredited facilities nationwide.
The Department of Health earlier said the country’s testing capacity has to reach 8,000 to 10,000 tests a day before the true picture of the COVID-19 pandemic is seen.
In the case of the Philippines — as anywhere else — the pandemic goes beyond being just a health concern. It has economic, social and political repercussions.
The economic cost of COVID-19 in the archipelago has been enormous.
With the economy operating at minimal capacity with only businesses engaged in essential services such as food and pharmacy allowed to operate, workers suffer loss of daily income for one-and-a half-months, thus unable to provide for the daily needs of their families.
Among those who have had to suffer loss of daily income are the workers in public transportation and construction projects. The temporary closure of hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues has also displaced hundreds of thousands of workers.
While big business firms can very well afford to give their employees’ salaries and wages for the duration of the public health emergency, the poor as well as ordinary workers have to do with the little that the national government has decided to give them, between 5,000 pesos (about US$100) to 8,000 pesos (US$160) a month per family according to a social amelioration program designed precisely to cushion the adverse effects of the lockdown.
On April 6, the national government announced the extension of the Luzon-wide lockdown, originally scheduled for April 14, to April 30. The odds that fewer Filipinos will be unaffected by this pandemic are now slim indeed. Meanwhile hospitals are bursting at the seams with patients already numbering close to 5,000 at present.
As experts predict that a vaccine to cure COVID-19 could take up to 18 months to be available at the earliest, the public health crisis is likely to continue even after economic restrictions are lifted.
In such an event we can only hope and pray that deliverance from the contagion will come sooner rather than later.
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.