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Imagine a world without a vaccine against COVID-19

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - Columnist/CDN Digital | May 07,2020 - 07:00 AM

 

I do not want to sound pessimistic. But if you look at another virus that has killed millions of humans in recent past, the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, no vaccine has been produced yet some four decades and billions of dollars later. 

While we are all hoping for the best that a vaccine against this nasty coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be produced in 12 to 18 months, what if we will end up with decades of no vaccine in sight? How shall human life proceed?

There are three things that have now become the new normal in everyday life, at least for us Filipinos: Frequent and longer handwashing with soap or alcohol, social or physical distancing, and the obligatory wearing of surgical masks. A corollary is the concept of work from home in a world severely hemmed in by very low internet connectivity coupled with slow internet speeds.

Once the quarantine is lifted—as it has to be lifted soon or else the economy will collapse—how shall life go on? In a country that abhors surrendering personal rights in favor of the many, a reaction to those bitter years of the Marcos dictatorship, will Filipinos cooperate this time when authorities will continue to enforce social distancing? 

Clearly, when it comes to distributing financial support at the last minute, forget it. Shown live on television yesterday and the day before, it is crystal clear that physical distancing will fly out the window when people need to look for money. If there will be more positive cases in the days to come, blame those long queues in Metro Manila’s barangays. Worse, those interviewed on television even lowered their masks to answer queries from careless news reporters so unmindful of the danger they put themselves in. It is so unlike those in the U.S., for example, where reporters carry boom microphones, ensuring a safe distance between both parties. Such carelessness would have merited fines or arrests in Singapore! Oh, but not in the Philippines, apparently.

Given what we have just seen, social distancing therefore will have to be constantly inculcated in people to the point of seemingly brainwashing them: Through ads on mass media and posters in various languages pasted at every nook and cranny all over the country. Already there are ingenious initiatives at driving home the point: One barangay in Metro Manila placed effigies of Death carrying the usual scythe plus the sign: “Stay at Home or Stay with Me.” Others have purposely displayed coffins in prominent places marked “COVID-19.” 

Beyond the three aforementioned practices in the new normal, life without a vaccine will hinge on constant testing, which in turn will entail having a steady supply of test kits and the ubiquitous presence of laboratories, and, of course, plenty of money to pay for such a regular round of tests. 

I do not see the logic of mass tests as if this is an end all and be all. It’s as if once you get a negative result on your tests, you are now safe forever. That is the kind of message that seems to be propagated by government as mass testing begins today. 

People have to be made to understand that a negative test result is only valid for that particular time that one is tested! Anyone who gets a negative result and decides to then go out and visit relatives and friends all over the city, thinking that they are now immune, is sadly misguided if not utterly stupid. The test is not a guarantee that the following day you will not get infected! It is how you behave that will determine your vulnerability to this virus.

This is where employers and employees (or students, teachers and school owners) in the new normal must now find a way to finance testing, perhaps even on a weekly basis. This is because, unlike other coronaviruses, COVID-19 is highly communicable even while the carrier has not yet shown symptoms or will never show any symptoms (the asymptomatic) of the disease.

Without the three standard practices I just mentioned, plus constant testing and labs, then forget it. We might just end up like the 1918 flu pandemic when the coronavirus then just simply ran out of people to infect. 

But wait, this COVID-19 is so nasty that there are reports that even those who have contracted it and have survived are not immune from it. Therefore, the virus disappearing because it has run out of hosts, akin to the 1918 Spanish flu, will probably not happen this time. Worse, a stronger strain, quite different from when this virus began in Wuhan late last year, is now believed to be the dominant version wreaking havoc and deaths in Europe and the United States since March. 

Call it Armageddon or the end of the world or what have you, but it appears that only a vaccine will overturn our miserable life in the new normal and bring us back to happier days. 

***

Today, dear readers, I bid goodbye to over 15 years of writing under this column and byline with the Cebu Daily News. I had so much fun even as I learned so much while writing for CDN. I hope you did too. As I close this chapter in my writing career, please continue to stay at home, wear a mask when going out, and constantly assert (not just passively but actively) the need for social or physical distancing. Be safe always! And may God bless us all in this very difficult time of our lives./dbs

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