On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and reiterated the call for countries to take immediate actions and scale up their response to treat, detect, and reduce transmission to save people’s lives, per official resources. That was from a regular bulletin issued by WHO almost two years ago.
While the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, some 45 days short of its second anniversary on March 11, 2022, online newsletter Inside History (IH) states that the virus which would spark a pandemic was first reported in (Wuhan) China on Dec. 31, 2019. Halfway across the world, on Jan. 19, 2020, a man who had returned home to Snohomish County, Washington state near Seattle on Jan. 15 after traveling to Wuhan, checked into an urgent care clinic after seeing reports about the outbreak.
The IH report states that, “experiencing a cough, fever, nausea and vomiting, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Jan. 21 that the 36-year-old had tested positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized, where his condition grew worse and he developed pneumonia. His symptoms abated 10 days later. A nonsmoker, the man had visited family in Wuhan.”
In no time, the Seattle area had become the epicenter of what IH calls an early US outbreak. According to IH, 39 residents of Life Care Center, a nursing home in Kirkland, died from complications from the virus in one four-week span. In some cases, relatives of people who died from COVID-19 in January 2020, but didn’t know it at the time, had their deceased relatives’ death certificates amended to show they died from the virus. Additionally, IH reported that according to the CDC, 14 US coronavirus cases were noted by public health agencies between Jan. 21 and Feb. 23, 2020; all patients had traveled to China. The first non-travel case was confirmed in California on Feb. 26, and the first US death was reported on Feb. 29.
The virus rapidly spread, and by May the US economy was in as big trouble as it was during the Great Depression. Businesses and schools closed. Hospitals were overwhelmed and medical frontliners bore the brunt of the pandemic. Face-to-face religious services were limited and, in some cases, canceled outright. Same for sports, culture and entertainment activities.
The initial report from US intelligence agencies monitoring events in China and warning about the dangers of the then developing pandemic had landed on then President Donald Trump’s desk. Trump later denied he was given the report. Much later, in an interview with Bob Woodward, he said he opted not to call the appropriate teams to prepare some kind of an action plan because he did not want “to create panic.” He subsequently downplayed the magnitude of the problem and twisted the issue into a political battle between the Republicans and Democrats with the former not advocating wearing of masks or the lockdowns, and attacking infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci. To this day, politicizing COVID-19 has turned into battles between pro-vaccination groups and anti-vaxxers in different part of the US, in so-called Red and Blue states, and other countries.
In the Philippines, data as of Jan. 23, 2022, shows that there have been 3,387,524 cases and 53,406 deaths with recoveries recorded at 3,053,499 since March 2020. Like the rest of the world, Delta was the most dominant variant until the Philippine Genome Center reported that the highly infectious Omicron strain had become the most dominant in the country, based on Jan. 13 and 14 data. Reports state that the Department of Health said two fatalities attributed to the Omicron were both above 60 years old, with comorbidities and unvaccinated.
Various studies about the future of Omicron vary. One South African doctor says the Omicron strain seems to be the “end game of COVID-19.” A Kaiser Health News report dated Jan. 19 however says that “though there are warnings that Omicron won’t be the ‘final’ variant of COVID, a new study says Omicron really could be the final chapter of the pandemic and end the global health emergency as it causes less serious illness and leads to protection against the Delta variant.”
Hardly had the ink dried from that report here comes Fortune’s Grady McGregor in an article dated Jan. 21 that the rise of a so-called “stealth Omicron” sub variant is alarming some scientists who say “it needs its own Greek letter.”
The Omicron sub variant, BA.2, appears to be outpacing other sub-strains of Omicron in some regions of the world, raising fears that even more transmissible versions of the (infectious) Omicron could spark larger COVID-19 waves globally, according to McGregor. Various online reports identify some of these areas: India, Sweden (the initial response of its government to COVID-19 was what some called “dismissive”), the United Kingdom and Denmark, to name a few. McGregor states that Denmark reported that in the two weeks from late December 2021 to mid-January 2022, BA.2 has gone from accounting for 20% of Denmark’s COVID-19 infections to making up 45%. Over that same period, Denmark’s COVID-19 infections have shot to record highs. Denmark is recording over 30,000 new cases per day this week, 10 times more per cases than peaks in previous weeks. It is to be noted that Denmark provides “free” medical care funded by tax revenues. Its government hospitals are patronized more than private sector hospitals by the public. Healthcare funds are distributed in the form of grants to regions and is therefore highly decentralized.
As in most cases, there are stories behind these figures. Most everyone has personal knowledge of close relatives, friends, office colleagues, neighbors, and others with whom one has had more than just a passing friendship or a mere acquaintance, succumbing to COVID-19 under the most pathetic, depressing, and emotionally wrenching and financially stressful circumstances.
And, as we are now finding out, the pandemic has expectedly created various fundamental changes in a person’s life and his relationships.
One has heard of families becoming closer as they adjust to lockdowns, skeletal work forces, work from home programs, and other sub-relationships outside the home. In a column several months ago, we also referred to family members rediscovering the beauty of spousal and family relationships and their spirituality. There are many such stories of rediscoveries and one can easily associate with them.
In many countries, relationships with the research and medical professions are also undergoing some changes, dictated very often by trust or lack of it. Some unvaccinated patients, for example, ask if they will receive equal treatment compared with the vaccinated.
The whole debate about the affectivity of a dewormer as a prophylactic against COVID-19, has somehow abated but the discussions among chat/online groups continue. The debate has become, in some insistences, heated and caused administrators of these chat groups to intervene to bring the temperature down. Accusations about lack of medical competence to dispense advice, and the credibility and motives of big “pharma” in waging a silent but purportedly well-funded and well-organized campaign against alternative treatments, fly thick and fast.
Relationships with technology have also changed, especially among seniors who have to adjust to the so-called new normal. In developed countries, citizens’ relationships with government are also being strained as populations resist anti-COVID-19 measures, compulsory vaccination, and masking mandates.
More relationships will undergo more basic changes as people become wearier as they experience the daily drudgery of having to comply with various restrictions. We just have to learn to adjust and survive together, or fight each other, and, ultimately, perish together.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.