Natural disasters of various kinds continue around the world in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a major 7.5-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Alaska last Monday, sending off tsunami waves, only three months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the same region.
Across the ocean, the Philippines was hit by its 16th storm this year, causing landslides, heavy rains, and flooding in Northern Luzon, particularly in Aurora, Isabela, Benguet, and Ifugao provinces. The Philippines, being in the same Pacific Ring of Fire as Alaska, is also frequently hit by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
At this time of the year, we frequently have major storms sweeping in from the Pacific toward the Asian mainland, and the Philippine archipelago happens to be right in their paths. The storms come all throughout the year, and many powerful ones come about this time of the year, like Yolanda which killed over 6,000 in November, 2013. No wonder, the Philippines is No. 3 in the World Risk Index of Natural Disasters, after Vanuatu and Tonga.
This year, our usual concern over natural disasters in these closing months of the year has been replaced by a greater fear – that of the COVID-19 pandemic which, seven months after our first quarantine lockdown in March, continues unabated. We have managed to hold back the number of infections and deaths in our country, but the fear remains.
A second wave of COVID-19 cases is beginning to rise in Europe and the Americas, with the United States, the world’s No. 1 economy, suffering the most in the number of cases and deaths, with India on course to overtake the US.
The world is holding on to hopes that a vaccine will soon be developed, but two or three in their final testing stages reported setbacks. Hopes for a vaccine by December are dim. Even if one makes it by then, it will take months before the earth’s billions of people can get it.
This is why all other problems we normally face and fear at this time of the year – typhoons and floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions – do not seem to matter to us as much they used to do. Our economy is slowly opening up, but the fear remains and many people continue to stay home. And those who do venture out wear face masks and face shields and keep their distance from other people.
In the face of what is happening in the rest of the world, it is indeed best to act as if COVID-19 is as dangerous as ever. We will have our usual storms and earthquakes at this time of the year, with fires toward year’s end. But the greatest threat and danger to our lives is still COVID-19 and we must continue to keep our guard up against it, maintaining all possible precautions. For the virus is still with us and may remain so for many more months to come.