Learning to live with the virus

Scientists have modeled future scenarios of how the pandemic may unfold, none of which include a scenario in which the virus disappears. Many experts have said they expect Covid-19 to become an endemic disease. This means enough people will gain immune protection from vaccination and from natural infection such that there will be less Covid-related hospitalization and death even as the virus continues to circulate. The viruses that cause the flu and the common cold, for instance, are endemic.

As Covid infections wane, governments around the world are starting to drop pandemic restrictions and telling people they must learn to live with the virus. UK Health Minister Sajid Javid, for example, said last week: “Covid is not going away. It’s going to be with us for many, many years, perhaps forever, and we have to learn to live with it.”

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases placed Metro Manila and other provinces under the less stringent Alert Level 2 starting February 1. The decision is a sign that the public observed health protocols and other guidelines to contain the Covid-19 surge, according to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año. The National Capital Region was placed on Alert Level 3 on January 3 when Omicron infections surged.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and OCTA research fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco earlier urged the government to begin crafting the country’s exit plan from the pandemic. “It is time for the national government to transition our people from a pandemic to an endemic mindset,” Concepcion and Austriaco said in a letter to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles and National Task Force Against Covid-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.

They said the surge of Omicron cases has peaked in Metro Manila and the wave is expected to continue in other regions in the next two weeks.“In its wake, this surge will confer significant population protection throughout the archipelago,” they said, explaining that “a significant portion of the population has already acquired immunity against Covid-19 either through vaccination or infection-acquired immunity.”

More good news: After being closed for nearly two years due to the pandemic, the Philippines is reopening its borders to tourists on February 10. Vaccinated visitors will no longer need to go through a mandatory quarantine. The government is also removing quarantine requirements for vaccinated Filipinos returning to the country starting February 1.

“The reopening will significantly contribute to job restoration, primarily in tourism-dependent communities, and in the reopening of businesses that have earlier shut down,” said Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat.

Dr. Manuel Dayrit, former Health secretary and Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health professor, said the Philippines must invest in building its capacity to produce vaccines, as this is key in addressing the needs of Filipinos. He explained: “We need to have some form of vaccine production capacity. Even if we can’t do the research, we need to have the capacity to be able to copy and produce. If we can do that, we will have some security when it comes to vaccine supplies.” (Read, “Living with the virus,” in the BusinessMirror, January 30, 2022)

As we prepare for the new normal of living with the virus, the government’s exit plan from the pandemic must include long-term health-care investments. We need to strengthen our pandemic preparedness. Like what other countries are doing, we can also carefully move on from the pandemic. Vaccination, according to experts, is the universally accepted solution to curb the spread and further mutations of the virus. We can help hurry things along toward the end stage of the pandemic by making ourselves inhospitable hosts for the virus. We can do this by getting Covid jabs and boosters.


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