By Dr. Amal Makhloufi
IN SOME COUNTRIES, through combinations of intensive testing programs and strict community quarantine rules, first steps are being taken in reopening their economies and loosening of strict lockdown rules. What is becoming clear from these countries is that life on the other side of COVID-19 will not initially resemble life before the virus arrived.
While these countries now have the possibility to restart some aspects of their economies, a return to “normal,” if normal is defined as pre-COVID-19 life, will be some years away. Even when managed, some amount of virus will still be present and large gatherings and international travel will continue to be impacted until a vaccine has been developed and widely distributed on a worldwide basis.
So, governments will need to plan. They will need to consider how quarantines can be partially and then more fully lifted. They will need to make a decision on what type of social distancing will remain in place for the near future. These decisions will be informed by expert opinion, data as well as individual national circumstances.
What we can do as a society with the time provided by the community quarantine measures is to give thought to what we want our future new normal to be. Rather than dwell on regression to a past, we can dream about a new future, different from the world before coronavirus.
Our future new normal can be better, we can emerge from this crisis stronger, better prepared and agile in anticipating future risks and managing them with less disruption. While history does not repeat itself, it sometimes rhymes, and lessons must be learned from our current situation to ensure that our future is more resilient.
Global pandemics are not new. We have developed ways of managing and preventing these once-grave threats to human health, but not before these diseases wrought a terrible toll in terms of death. COVID-19 is the latest of these. It will not be the last. We can and should anticipate that a future virus will mutate and pose the risk of another global pandemic.
So, what should our principles be as we look to build our new normal? How do we learn from the past, use the present as a teachable moment in order to shape a better, more resilient, future?
Two key lessons from the current coronavirus outbreak must focus on our healthcare systems, especially their capacity to serve the population effectively as well as the health of our society.
How to translate these lessons into a set of principles to shape our future new normal must start with a wide-ranging public dialogue embracing multiple stakeholders in our society. There is much for us to consider as we dream of a better tomorrow: Firstly, we should recognize healthcare as an investment, not a cost. If we have learned one thing from our current situation, it is that any supposed trade-off between public health and economic gain is a false narrative. And if a sickly society cannot translate into a successful economy, we should look at investments in our health as investments in our future, particularly in a country like the Philippines where people are the nation’s greatest natural resource.
Secondly, we need to appreciate that disease cannot read postal codes. They do not much care what you do for a living or how large your bank balance might be. In a pandemic where we all have the ability to potentially infect one another or protect one another, it is in all our interests that healthcare is seen as a universal right and not a privilege for the few. Your neighbor’s good health is to your benefit as well as his.
Thirdly, our self-responsibility for health, hygiene, and wellness is good for our community, and society as a whole. We all have a role to play in managing our health and looking to be healthier.
Returning to the world we had before COVID-19 is likely to be as big a challenge as creating a new, better future. So why not dream big and work together to create new values and priorities for a healthier and more resilient future? Our dreams can be for a healthier Philippines, a stronger Philippines, and a more prosperous Philippines.
Dr. Amal Makhloufi is the Chairperson of the Committee of Health of the European Chamber for Commerce and Industries (ECCP). She is also the Country Manager of Sanofi Philippines and the General Manager for Pharmaceuticals.