This is an all-out war, no doubt about it. Globally, COVID-19 has so far caused a total of4.55million reported deaths as of September 10, 2021. By comparison, a total of 17 million deaths are estimated as a result of World War I, an average of 4.25 million annually. That is a stark comparison, indeed.

The world has united in mobilizing forcesin taking the war to COVID-19. Unfortunately, the enemy is not visible and – like a shape-shifter – continues to mutate into more deadly forms. More to the point, though, we are fighting a zombie war because, technically, the virus is not even a living thing. So how do you kill something that isn’t even alive?

There are many battlefronts that need to besecured before this war can be declared as won.

The virus needs hosts in order to spread; that’s us humans. So the way to stop the virus is to deprive it of hosts. That is why the mandatory minimum safety protocols are critical: masks, shields, social distancing and disinfection. It is not a sure-fire guarantee but studies show that it reduces the risk of infection by as much as 99% if we employ the full arsenal. This is one battle that we are struggling with: the sustained and consistent adherence to protocols.

Then, of course, there is the vaccine. The development and deployment of vaccines were done in record time. In the early stages of the roll-out of the vaccines, there was a high level of anxiety about its effectivity. In the Philippines, those willing to get vaccinated were as low as 15-20% at one time. Thankfully, the hesitation has now seemed to thaw with the percentage of willing-vaccineesrising to around 50%. This is welcome news to the COVID-19 Task Force as it pursues its goal of herd immunity. Originally, the government targetted to vaccinate 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity. Due to the spread of the Delta variant, the target has been increased to 90%.On this battlefront we are making gains but slowly:securing adequate supplies of the vaccine.

Yet another front where the battlerages is in shoring up our critical health care capacity. The strength of our essential workers continues to be ravaged. Demands on doctors, nurses, support staff, hospital beds and medical supplies, among others, are constantly rising. The government is doing what it can to keep the lines of defense firmly in place but resources – budgets! – arefast fading. Prevention, not cure, is the key on this front.

In order to secure medical supply chains and assure that the numbers of essential workers and needed facilitiesare sustained, government needs to dig very deeply into its coffers. It also has to work to reduce social costs like the “ayuda” packages so it canprioritize the critical needs of the frontlines. To do so, a parallel effort to restore economic activity has to be stepped-up. The only way to reduce demands for social care is to restore jobs. As well, to keep the taps of government revenues flowing, businesses need to reopen so it can pay much needed taxes. The balance between preserving lives and livelihood is a very fine line. The government is doing its best to walk this tightrope but, clearly, it is a “damned-if-you-will, damned-if-you-don’t” situation.

Finally, the one other remaining battlefront is preparing for the new – and better – normal. We need an exit strategy from this war. Indeed, there are many reflections that we can use to rebuildour lives. The premise, of course, is that this will not be the last pandemic. One glaring gap that government has already identified is our serious lack of capacity on the very basic needs for protection. Surely, we need to be able to develop or, at least, produce vaccines in our own country. Another clear need is for us to strengthen the attention to our health care sector – insurance coverage, medical professionals, hospitals – so that we always have adequate capacity to tend to the extreme demands of a pandemic.

On the livelihood front, government should put a recovery program in place that will resuscitate a deeply scarred and devastated economic landscape, especially among the MSME’s. Simply reopening mobility and businesses will not bring the much needed revival of the economy. Stimulus and pump-priming will be needed. The CREATE law has the potential to provide the much needed jump start. As well, the build-build-build program of government will be vital in restoring economic activity in many sectors due to its very significant multiplier impact.More programs will be needed to get the Philippines back on track as one of the most vibrant economies in Asia.

The war against COVID-19 is far from over. It will linger. But we will win it.

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Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2021/09/12/the-war-against-covid-will-linger/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-war-against-covid-will-linger)