FOR the second time in my lifetime now I am forced to confront the question: should I wear a mask?
And no, this is not because I’ve seen Metro Manila showered with volcanic ash in my lifetime: the first in 1991 and the second time just a few weeks ago.
It is because there is a possibility that a virus emanating from China threatens the health of anyone it comes to infect. In this age of affordable air travel and thousands of tourists crossing borders every day, the risk of a pandemic is, now more than ever, real.
Think about it: about 80% of the air you breathe in an aircraft is recycled, which means that someone who coughs or sneezes inside the plane could very well be “infecting” everyone else on board.
I’m not trying to scare people; I’m just being honest because that’s how I felt a week ago when I caught myself coughing on board a plane due to an itchy throat. And so, yes, I took pains to make sure I coughed into my handkerchief.
But how many passengers do?
If you think about it, this latest outbreak is something we should all be concerned about far more than we are now. Because the virus could very well be here, given the number of tourists from China who visit us every day. And if it is here, it could spread so quickly and put at risk so quickly the lives of so many Filipinos, old and young. And that would be far worse a problem than wondering if Taal Volcano is still gearing up for “the big one.”
(As of this writing the Philippines has yet to confirm the presence of the coronavirus, despite a report of one or two tourists being isolated in Puerto Princesa. I am told that the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or RITM in Alabang has the capacity to confirm whether one is down with the coronavirus but a second opinion from Australia is needed to validate the findings. So we wait.)
At the same time though, there are simple ways to keep the virus in check, starting from those with cough and colds. Make sure you have a handkerchief or paper towels with you.
Cough or sneeze into them. And (and this applies to everyone) always, always wash your hands before touching your face. Wash, or use an anti bacterial gel that is common nowadays.
And so for the second time in my lifetime I have to contemplate whether to hide behind a face mask particularly when I board an aircraft for the local trips I need to make. Whether as a sneezer or as a “sneeze,” it may be a little inconvenience in exchange for some peace of mind. But frankly if only we all took the necessary precautions, practiced good hygiene and good manners and right conduct, then this or any other virus would be a concern but a manageable one.
Unlike the less predictable Taal.