Philip Cu Unjieng2 copy 245x300 - Right back where we started from (?): Our new abnormal (XIX)
Philip Cu Unjieng

With apologies to veteran British R&B singer Maxine Nightingale, best known for her radio hits in the 1970’s, let’s rephrase one of her classic disco songs;

“Do you remember that day, (fateful mid-March day)
When you first came our way,
I said no one could take your place,
And if we all get hurt, (all get hurt)
By the things you do your way,
In time we’ll put that smile back on our face.

But it’s not all right and look what we’ve done,
And we’ve come right back to where we started from!”

France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Germany –  the news reports throughout last week were about a renewed upsurge in COVID cases. While there were significant differences between what’s happening now, and what transpired back in February and March, there was cause for worry and action. Night-time curfews, limited local lockdowns and a fresh wave of restrictions; they were all met with howls of protests, cries of impending economic collapse, and some cities simply refused to take the second wave restrictions sitting down. In Manchester, England, and in Rouen, France, there was the appeal that more restrictions should also mean more incentives.

IMG 9019 300x200 - Right back where we started from (?): Our new abnormal (XIX)
COLOR ME GREEN WITH ENVY — This is not a pre-pandemic photo. It’s from last week, October 18, at Eden Park, Auckland. 46,000 watching the All Blacks vs Australia with no COVID protocols in sight — a testament to New Zealand’s handling of the health crisis. (From Rugby.com.au, no copyright infringement intended)

So is it a case of right back where we started from? Apparently not; and if it’s any comfort, it’s in a good way, given the circumstances. While there was a sharp rise in cases, the number of deaths resulting from the virus had dropped considerably. The whole year under this corona shadow had at least given the medical experts and scientists a better grip on how to treat those afflicted.

But to me, the nagging question remains as to what is causing this second wave, and how is this rise in COVID-positive persons coming about? Is travel, lax restrictions between countries, the culprit? If that is the case, it would mean three steps backwards for the aerospace industry and for commercial flights. No matter what incentives or stimulus package you grant the airline industry, there just aren’t going to be enough confident travelers/passengers. For Filipinos pining for travel, where do they even head to? I didn’t even mention the USA in the opening paragraphs; as there, the corona spread is still on a roller coaster trajectory, with so many states on the upswing.

If the virus dispersal vector in these European countries is from within, via local transmission; then mass testing and contact tracing will be the order of the day for the more developed countries. We can count our lucky stars that here in the Philippines, positive cases have been on a downtrend; and we’re surviving despite the absence of any real plan that involves mass testing and/or contact tracing with extensive infrastructure. Here, we’ve relied more on a million Hail Mary’s, turning the 9-day novena into 14 days, and transitioning into a country of dry-skin hands, thanks to constant alcohol hand-wringing.

For what it’s worth, this side of the hemisphere seems to be handling the virus more effectively. Mid-October in Qingdao, China, saw a cluster of 13 cases during the weeklong National Day festivities; and immediately, local health authorities tested 10 million within a week, and the vast majority were negative. Thailand was well on its way to reopening, but the Bangkok street demonstrations last week, and the absence of social distancing (they were religiously wearing masks), may result in a fresh outbreak – which we’ll be monitoring. In Taiwan, regular concerts have been back since August; filling up 10,000 capacity stadiums and arenas. Yes, it’s mostly been Chinese pop artists on tour, but the enthusiasm and feeling of normalcy, even if the audience is required to wear masks, can’t be denied.

New Zealand is another country that’s cited as hitting the gold standard for handling the pandemic. 2,000 cases and 25 deaths, and when August saw a cluster of cases in Auckland, swift action was taken. So much so that when Eden Park in Auckland hosted a rugby international between their All Blacks & Australia last Sunday, 46,000 jubilant, screaming fans were packed in the stadium – with no signs of social distancing, face masks or shields.

And yes, you can say that New Zealand’s less than 5 million population is easier to control, or that Taiwan’s 24 million is still a far cry from our 109 million. But for those being defensive, neighboring Vietnam has a population of 98 million, with a reported 1,141 cases and 35 deaths. Besides, my objective isn’t to compare; but to encourage us to be vigilant and stay alert to the possibilities of a second wave here – and to demonstrate how, if handled properly, a form of normalcy is just around the corner. And aren’t those examples from nearby countries the best motivators?

It’s far too easy to cite quarantine fatigue, or become complacent. Singapore can boast of how 90% of its inhabitants comply, and wear face masks regularly; and happily, I can predict our score would be on the high side as well. The USA lagged in June with less than 65% wearing masks, though it has been on the rise since then.

Super-cautious and guardedly optimistic that all may be fine before Christmas – that’s something we all can pray for this holiday season. So I’m christening the drink of 2020‘s last quarter to be the Grim & Tonic.

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