We did well, we have survived!
It has been more than two years since COVID-19 brought dark and heavy clouds to our country. The massive storm drenched us in fear and uncertainty; inundated us with many unknowns, what-ifs and false information; and washed away strongly held beliefs and biases that proved to be irrelevant or of little value. Momentarily, our vision blurred and our joints froze, but quickly, as the relentless crisis morphed in our midst, the neurochemicals in our mind and body kick-started self-perpetuating adaptive responses to the stresses that we could neither fully fathom nor control. Our mental composure took a hit, but resilience kept us engaged with the tough challenges of staying present and focused.
Without a doubt, we got by with much help from others, many of whom were neither friends nor acquaintances before the storm — just fellow human beings. People in positions of leadership who failed to measure up didn’t linger in our consciousness as much as those who inspired us and earned our respect as they rose to the occasion and made their contributions count. The respect that was lost by those from whom we expected more was nothing like the respect that was earned by those from whom we expected nothing. Competence and agility trumped mediocrity and indecision.
As the haze cleared up, the good and the true became clearer and more distinct despite the disarray, or perhaps because of it. As it were, something as astoundingly overwhelming as the global epidemic seemed to have imprinted an indelible mark on the Filipino soul and changed it. We became aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of everything and everyone, appreciated the importance of community and collaboration, and acknowledged the priority of addressing what would work best for many over the overindulgent preferences of the few.
It is not at all unrealistic to hope that long after the havoc has fully dissipated, the experience of shared responsibility during the crisis — and whatever other crises that may follow — would make way for a new social order. In fact, it may have already begun.
More than two years thence — the morning after the storm — we are still here standing, now equipped with the knowledge gained from the debacle and a glimpse of what must be redone to shape the future. Digital technology has quickly taken root and transformed everything in its wake, clearly paving the way for the new normal that we have begun to savor. Its early adoption was obviously accelerated by the safety-and-convenience regulations under quarantine conditions. But just as quickly, it acquired a life of its own, permutating into many possibilities in as many vulnerable industries where the need for speed of delivery, accuracy of data, and the experience of comfort and convenience had become a baseline minimum requirement. In the aftermath, we see around us social and economic structures that need to be repurposed, rebuilt, redefined, replaced, or forgotten.
Given the radical changes that have taken place in two years, there is no reason to go back to how things were. To adapt means to reinvent or innovate, to give up old habits, and develop new ways of thinking and doing. This is where we find ourselves now.
A lot of things happened — or did not happen fast enough — in the healthcare sector through the surges and variants, the regulatory hits and misses, and the shifting vulnerabilities and predictabilities of patient journeys in and outside hospitals and across the entire health ecosystem. Still, updated medical facts and algorithmic disease management have put fear and uncertainty at bay; science has provided clarity and confidence in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of COVID-19; molecular labs have risen in many places, perhaps late for the current pandemic but ready for the next one; and scientific discipline, amid the deluge of fake news, has reoccupied its proper place in the hierarchy of medical information.
There is no reason to go back to how things were. To adapt means to reinvent or innovate, to give up old habits and develop new ways of thinking and doing. This is where we find ourselves now.
The availability and application of new knowledge have significantly improved the patient journey from home to hospital and back. In fact, with online consultation and telemedicine and other rapid changes in digital technology, hospital and home can eventually become one and the same place, because many things can be accomplished anytime and anywhere without having to suffer through distance, traffic, and pollution. As this emerging virtual care increasingly acquires sophisticated technology, and access to reliable information becomes a simple finger activity, the evolving home-hospital and patient-physician interfaces will redefine hospital care and clinic practice — something that both the public and the medical profession must urgently prepare for.
At the government front, which had been marred by regulatory predicaments and mishaps, the full vaccination of more than 70 million Filipinos has been reached, booster doses have been ramped up despite hesitancy in implementing boosting protocols for specific populations, and the vaccination of children has started. Looking back, it would seem like the Philippines was not as efficient as its ASEAN counterparts in tracing, testing, and containing the viral spread, despite the severe government regulations and restrictions. But Filipinos cannot be faulted for non-adherence to government protocols that didn’t make sense. When citizens have the correct information from the government, they do follow the rules. A Feb. 2022 study by the Johns Hopkins Center revealed that 93% of survey respondents in the Philippines reported wearing a mask all or most of the time when in public. This was the highest level of mask-wearing among 21 countries in that study.
Today, COVID-19 infections have remained low despite the reopening of businesses and the massive crowds that had attended political rallies leading to the national elections. This time around, we are better prepared for the next scare.
While it is apparent that the COVID-19 virus and new viruses will continue to be present, two years of the worst part of the pandemic have given us radical lessons on change, adaptation, and transformation as we engage in the new world. Armed with knowledge and confidence, we’re realizing that the future is not some place we can only walk toward—it is something we must create. Years from now, the world may be facing an entirely new set of challenges. All we need to do is to remember our collective past, appreciate how we survived, and prepare well. Things that we cannot control, we hand to nature. But consider this: we have more control over ourselves than what we are ready to confront.