POSTSCRIPT / January 9, 2022 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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After the pandemic comes the endemic

The COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country in alternating high and low waves of infections should settle down – how soon we don’t know – to a more manageable endemic, but at a great price in lives lost, resources wasted, and opportunities missed.

Like a tsunami that withdraws after walloping a seaside community, the pandemic will have to recede in time, leaving the victim-population to pick up the pieces and build back better and wiser.

Life simply has to go on – for survivors of the pandemic that has been taking victims mostly from those who did not have the foresight, the means, and the time to prepare adequately for it. Or those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The transition from a pandemic to an endemic is the hazy positive angle some of us have been looking forward to despite our lack of the expertise and organized scientific data to prop up the wishful theory.

(In epidemiology, an infection is said to be endemic in a population when that infection is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area without external inputs. For example, chickenpox is endemic in the United Kingdom, but malaria is not. – Wikipedia)

We hostages on these islands continue hoping and praying, watching for the glimmer of daybreak as we take the deadly pandemic blows in the dark.

One immutable rule of nature is balance. The equilibrium may be disturbed now and then, but balance – nature’s equation – somehow returns to assert itself as the law.

When humans and other living things begin to overwhelm the ecosystem’s life-support, either they or the system add or subtract from themselves or their requirements to bring back the balance.

When natural resources, which have been notoriously mismanaged, can no longer support the burgeoning human population, people start dying en masse, as in plagues and pandemics.

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Another phenomenon in nature is cycles. For some reason, most movements seem to always come in waves. Note that most graphs drawn to show the ebb and flow of the viral pandemic infections go up and down in waves of various patterns.

With the citizens cooperating with the public health experts and the competent administrators in government, we should be able to flatten the waves of infection of whatever variant that may come our way.

The surges triggered by the Omicron variant have been alarming. With the number of daily cases soaring from less than 1,000 last week to more than 21,000 now, and the positivity rate hitting 40 percent compared to the less than 5 percent per WHO advice, the jumps are so scary.

(Reproduction number refers to how many people are infected or contaminated by one case or carrier. On the other hand, the positivity rate refers to the percentage of people found positive for COVID-19 among the total number of individuals tested.)

The Omicron is reportedly more transmissible than previous variants but less severe in its attack on the human body and its demands on public health front liners and the facilities of hospitals.

With this somewhat benign characteristic of the Omicron, if it is difficult to check its spread anyway, we pray that its contaminating (without killing) more people could help propagate natural immunity against COVID-19.

The ramped-up mass vaccinations and the immunity gained by the unvaccinated when infected with Omicron could have a combined effect resembling herd immunity. This level is reached when at least 70 percent of the population are immunized by vaccination or via actual infection.

When there are that many bodies (some 70 million Filipinos) whose immunity will not allow their hosting and transmitting the virus or its mutants, the spread of the disease will slow down and the pandemic likely to be reduced to an endemic that recurs only in a controlled area.

The downgrading of the disease to endemic will enable people to return to their normal routine, rebuild institutions, and recharge the economy. Properly governed and guided by Divine direction, the people will then be better fortified against the endemic if it appears again.

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But the transition to a tamer endemic could exact a stiff price. For one, thousands more people will have to die harboring and bodily blocking the virus, thereby helping achieve herd immunity.

And then, draconian measures could be resorted to by the government to protect the greater number. This assumes that officials flexing their political muscles are not motivated by ulterior designs.

Citizens may also be asked to temporarily give up some of their accustomed rights and liberties. Secular officials could tell even the dominant religion how many of its devotees should be allowed in places of worship at any one time. Local officials could start wielding powers to accost/arrest those who step out of their houses if they have no proof of having been vaccinated. Et cetera.

Somebody might even try using the public health crisis, exacerbated by economic difficulties, as an excuse to suspend the holding of the May national elections. This holdover “No-El” scenario is unthinkable among normal people in normal times.

Speculating on the costly transition to endemic, we realize that we need not only compliant (intimidated?) citizens but also competent, responsible and patriotic leaders to move properly from a pandemic to an endemic situation.

Let us not entrust the pandemic-to-endemic transition in 2022-2023 to just any bunch of characters playing god. The sensitive process requires having a woke population and voters who are more discerning and demanding when they cast the ballot on May 9.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 11, 2022)

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