Laboring under the weight of the virus


    TODAY would have been a big day in many countries of the world. It’s the day when societies toast LABOR and hail its contribution to human advancement. In some countries there would be mass gatherings and big parades. In others like ours there would be a stampede for the beaches here and tourist destinations abroad. Being a Friday means it’s a three-day weekend. Time to celebrate.

    But thanks to “corona,” the world is on lockdown, and there won’t be major parades and beach gathering (unless you’re in Australia and parts of California). Instead of the “long weekend,” we mark the sixth of a really long weekend, forced upon us by fears of an affliction whose virulence has never been seen in decades. Of course today IS still a holiday, but instead of being happy to be home many of us are sick and tired of being home. But there’s nothing much we can do about it. There are no flights or cruises or even just buses to grab a ride on.

    Heck, there isn’t even any Grab except for food and other deliveries.

    Yesterday afternoon, as the office day came to a close I tuned in to YouTube Premium and watched an hour-long PBS feature on “corona.” The report on the program Frontline was focused on how the United States responded (or didn’t respond) to the virus to get to where it is now – with over a million infected and more dead Americans in three months than from two decades or so of engagement in the ill-fated Vietnam War.

    The report is a sad narration of missed opportunities, misread signals and major decision-making failures.

    One moment that told you how serious the situation was (or is) was a portion where the host was interviewing Dr. Amy Compton-Philips, EVP of the Providence St. Joseph Health hospital network of Seattle, Washington and its chief clinical officer. Washington State was where the first COVID-19 case in the USA was recorded. According to her, for the whole of 2019 the Providence hospital network in Seattle used up 250,000 masks; in the first three months of 2020 alone they had used up the same number.

    A segment captured a discussion of how often an N95 mask was to be used (beneath a face shield): “Forever?” a staffer of a hospital asked; “No, not forever” replied Dr. Philips wanly. The fact that such a conversion was happening spoke volumes about the challenge.

    The reality of COVID-19 is that no country was ready when it hit. Not China, despite allegations in some quarters that this was an intentional, China-made pandemic. Not Singapore, which handled the first wave of infections among its citizens and residents well only to be pushed to the ropes by a second wave from guest workers. Not even South Korea, Vietnam or Germany, although these three were perhaps the most proactive of countries who began swinging into action in January when news reports of the infection spreading in China started to be carried by global news networks.

    But whether it was a week or two, if not, in fact, a month, there was a period of time during which governments — if they were paying attention — could have mobilized resources (including human talent) to prepare. Whether it was to take a crisis management manual off the shelves to be reviewed, or create panels of experts to start visualising scenarios, or opening up lines of communications with neighbors, or even firmly but politely shutting the door to outsiders. Today, we see how those countries that acted as quickly as they could are surviving the onslaught of the virus while those that dragged their feet, basked in a false sense of complacency and didn’t devote enough attention to the growing problem in China are now struggling to get the situation under control.

    No one was ready, but some have done far better than others in getting their acts together and fighting back.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t include the Philippines. We are laboring under the sheer weight of the onslaught of the virus.


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