Around this time last year, there was a collective excitement over the end of the bleak 2020 and the prospect of a brighter 2021. The optimism had its reasons. The anti-Covid vaccine has rolled out in several countries around the world, and it was just a matter of time when it will be in the Philippines. The number of infections in the country has stayed relatively and comparatively low and selected businesses were allowed to resume operations.
Then, boom! Delta happened.
Everything went back to square one, some say to negative square one. Infection numbers zoomed to the tens of thousands, and lockdowns were imposed again. It is thus not surprising that people are approaching 2022 with a bit more tentativeness, a little more caution—lest we suffer another setback.
“RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2 really mutate fast; but actually, Covid-19 mutates slower than other RNA viruses like HIV,” says Dr Edsel Salvana, infectious diseases specialist. Because of this nature of the virus, Salvana believes that Covid-19 will still be around in 2022 though hopefully, more manageable in terms of prevention and cure. “We know more about the virus after more than a year,” he adds.
The economist Cielito Habito agrees. “It’s time, as people including health experts point out, to look at Covid-19 not as a pandemic but as endemic. It will always be there so we will just have to dance with it.”
"It’s time, as people including health experts point out, to look at Covid-19 not as a pandemic but as endemic. It will always be there so we will just have to dance with it"— Cielo Habito
Different sectors are already preparing to meet 2022 with the presence of the virus factored in. In education, two years of online learning took a heavy toll on the studentry, which Habito defines as “the lost generation”.
Gigi Montinola, chairman of Far Eastern University, calls it “the lost year”. “Clearly, we cannot do two more years of online learning,” he continues. “Every study worldwide shows that people learn less with remote learning. Its effect was bad all around—from physical health to mental health, even to parents’ health.”
In the last quarter of 2021, the government has allowed face-to-face learning in selected schools all over the country. Montinola gives this move a thumbs-up. “What Sec Briones [Education Secretary Leonor Briones] proposes is not bad. Alternate between weeks of going to school. Only three hours a day. It’s more an opportunity for students and parents to do something for a while. As for the learning, we will still see,” Montinola says.
He believes this hybrid learning situation will continue into 2022 and even perhaps beyond. “This is going to entail a lot of logistics, especially with health protocols,” he says, mentioning better ventilation in classrooms, or the proliferation of outdoor classrooms; better prepared students and teachers for both digital and face-to-face; the improvement of the Wi-fi and bandwidth infrastructure; and the vaccination of minors.
Vaccination is a must; Dr Salvana could not overemphasise its importance. “The reason why there is so much mutation is because so many people get infected and so there are more opportunities to mutate. Vaccination decreases the risk of severe Covid-19 by 90 per cent or more.” The other health protocols help as well to decrease the emergence of new variants, he adds, like “using our mask, face shield and sticking to public health standards”.