We’re glad to be rid of 2020, that dumpster of a year. We’re seeing 2021 with fresh eyes — a new beginning where we can pick our depressed selves up and start over. And we’re starting to do that too. We’re getting too comfortable meeting up with friends, holding “small” celebrations with families, and slowly crowding tourist spots again. Almost a year into the Philippine lockdown, it seems as if we’re slowly being able to stretch our limbs and venture outside. And with a vaccine on the way, we’re feeling good. Invincible even! But this is exactly why we must be all the more vigilant. Here’s why.
There’s a new COVID strain spreading
Viruses naturally mutate, which is why scientists are unsurprised that a stronger, more infectious COVID strain seems to be currently spreading all over the world. The variant, named B117, was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020. As of writing, it has spread to at least 45 countries. Early reports say B117 is 70% more transmissible than the early variants of Sars-CoV-2, prompting some countries to close their borders once again.
A few days ago, a Pinay who flew from Manila to Hong Kong tested positive for the new strain, invoking fear among Filipinos that B117 might already be spreading in the country. These fears were confirmed on Jan. 13 when the Department of Health reported they detected the strain from OFWs returning home from the United Arab Emirates. Malacañang is acting quickly this time and has already imposed temporary travel restrictions on a number of countries, including China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.
Superspreader events are real
The fear is real and the scale of damage super spreader events inflict is terrifying. These are gatherings where virus carriers unknowingly cause a domino of infections eventually turning into a mass outbreak. Larger events (such as the shocking 300k crowd gathered for last week’s Feast of the Black Nazarene) hold a greater possibility for transmission. But superspreader events could also be intimate gatherings like the Maine wedding in November 2020, which was connected to at least 200 cases, or the 99th birthday celebration in Missouri which infected all the family members.
Given that B117 is now known to be much more infectious than the first virus, it’s crucial we observe proper health safety measures all the more. But even in full gear – face mask, face shield, a bottle of alcohol – you can’t really tell if you’ve avoided catching the virus or worse, you’re asymptomatic.
The healthcare system is still overstretched
If B117 spreads in our country, our healthcare system might just collapse. Back in July when major cities eased quarantine restrictions, healthcare workers had to deal with the rise in cases that nearly overwhelmed them. It even made them call out for a “timeout” and to shift back to stricter quarantine measures. Frontliners are more than exhausted after nearly a year of dealing with the virus, with no end in sight. The country is still expecting a surge in COVID cases from the holiday festivities and the Black Nazarene gathering. Just how long will this keep going on?
Yes, vaccines are available. But…
We can’t pin our hopes on vaccines that are (a) being introduced to the human race for the first time and (b) not even on our hands yet. The top vaccines everyone is clamoring for have all undergone rigorous testing and trials and so far, there are minimal safety issues, but we still have so much to learn about them. Even at this very moment, scientists are continuously monitoring the vaccine’s effectiveness. The promise of being injected with a few doses shouldn’t give us a false sense of security, as if we still aren’t in the middle of a pandemic.
You can still get infected, even with a vaccine shot
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S. answered some of the most pressing questions about the vaccine in a video interview. When asked if those who took the vaccine shot still have to wear face masks and if they can still infect someone else, he said, “The answer is yes. It is still conceivable that you could get infected and be asymptomatic. And even though the vaccine protected you from getting sick, it didn’t protect you from getting infected.”
Dr. Fauci reiterated the threat of this invisible virus. It doesn’t matter if you’re healthy to go outside and meet friends, you wouldn’t know if you’re a carrier and that makes every individual dangerous. He adds that in order for Americans to get to walk around without face masks, about 85% of the population should be injected. This lessens the impact of the virus the same way it did with other infectious diseases like polio and smallpox. In the Philippines, we also need a high percentage of the community injected with the vaccine if we were to achieve “herd immunity.”
COVID survivors are still suffering from the effects of the virus
2021 found you meeting friends, walking through malls on weekends, and dining in — that’s not necessarily a horrible thing. But are you willing to gamble your safety for a few minutes of reckless fun? A study in Wuhan, China reports that patients still suffer from the effects of the virus even six months after falling ill. Those who survived extreme cases had on-going lung problems and even kidney failure. Getting infected is no joke. On top of the hospital bills to keep you alive during the worst of it, your immune system might be compromised for a long time.
Coronavirus might be here to stay
Vaccines for coronavirus are an impressive development but you shouldn’t expect that they will eradicate all traces of the virus in a year or two. It would need years of testing for it to be stronger. The new strains even pose a challenge for scientists to keep developing new formulas for vaccines. Add that to the fact that not everyone might have a chance at getting dosages, herd immunity might remain a distant dream for the world.
Be vigilant, be alert
You, me, and everyone else around the world is itching for the day when we get rid of these face masks and face shields. We long to hug our families and meet up with our friends. We want to attend grand wedding ceremonies, spend Friday nights dancing at concerts, and be able to work in an actual office. The rules seem inconvenient but if we’re to make it out of this alive, we have to follow them. Let’s do our part in helping our own fragile healthcare system and our hardworking frontliners battling this disease. Stay at home. Maintain social distancing and refrain from large gatherings. Persevere a little longer until we get to the part where all this is but a bad dream.
What do you think of the vaccines being developed for COVID-19?