"Filipinos expect their leaders, in and out of government, to show the way out of this pandemic."
The year 1918 will forever be etched in the world’s collective memory as the time when a deadly pandemic, now known as the Spanish flu, swept through the ends of the earth and claimed millions of lives. First detected in a military base in Kansas which served as a recruitment ground for American soldiers being deployed to the European front during the First World War, the disease was initially warded off as just a bad case of influenza.
It was only after hundreds of cases popped up in a matter of days at the base and thousands more were reported in other states serving as deployment area for the European front that officials took heed. By then, the disease has spread through the US, UK and other countries.
What made things even worse were the crowd-drawing activities after armistice and the end of the war was declared in mid-November 1918 just weeks before America was to celebrate Thanksgiving and, thereafter, Christmas. The celebrations that followed on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond became super spreader events, wrecking havoc across the board which eventually claimed almost a fourth of the population at that time.
It is this kind of super spreader activities which should concern us all. Being cooped up for most of the year, the urge to let our guard down and just go out, epecially during the holidays, has taken outsize importance to most people. We should take a deep breath and restrain ourselves. We have heeded health protocols and ensured our well-being as best we could. This is not the time to waste all the sacrifices we have gone through thus far for a moment of unprotected carousing.
Excerpts from the article “What Missteps During The Spanish Flu Pandemic Can Teach Us About Celebrating Safely During Covid 19” written by Winnifred Forlick in Endocrine.com should give us pause and bring us back to reality: COVID-19 is still with us, In fact, the experts tell us that there is now a new strain spreading through Europe prompting re-imposition of stricter lockdowns. We should ensure that the missteps which happened in 1918 that triggered the unmitigated spread of the Spanish Flu. We should endeavor not only to keep ourselves and our families in good health but our neighbors and other communities as well. Here’s what happened in America in 1918 which eerily maybe enveloping those countries now experiencing COVID-19’s second or third wave and which we should try to avoid at all cost:
“On November 11, the Armistice was signed, ending four long years of war. They took to the streets and began holding social gatherings again. To make matters worse, the first post-war Thanksgiving and Christmas followed soon after. There were some half-measure attempts to curtail mass gatherings, and many churches did the right thing and canceled their usual Christmas Eve services for fear of crowding and endangering members of their congregations.
“But without an official government order to shut down and stay home, stores all over the country remained open for Christmas shopping in crowded indoor spaces. On Christmas Eve, thousands of veterans traveled to New York City to attend lavish parties and festive dances. In Hamilton, Montana, a month’s long lockdown was lifted in late December, just in time to allow churches and movie theatres to have a Christmas Day opening. The government's refusal to give Americans firm guidance and their inability to resist gathering until it was safe to do so caused a third wave of influenza infections to sweep the entire globe as soldiers worldwide left crowded barracks to participate in similar welcoming ceremonies over the holidays in their own home countries. That third wave of avoidable mass illness and death would not subside until the spring.”
Of course, the government has issued guidance albeit impractical and contradictory at times. But we hunger for the things we normally do specially during this holiday season. These are times for reunions with families and friends, for food trips and travels, for gift giving, for shopping or just walking around, for enjoying the many decorated malls and places, for carolling and so on and on. Not to mention going to church for “simbang gabi” and religious gatherings complete with the “puto bumbong” and “tsokolate eh” after the services. We will surely miss those.
Well, not really. We can hear mass online and will probably have reunions, shop and even go carolling online as well. But the difference will be stark indeed. These are real. Like most of the days and weeks and months in lockdown none of these will ever be back. They will simply be part of memories past.
Yet, as our religious brethren remind us, we may have actually gained something out of the sacrifice – returning to our roots, to our inner selves and retrieving out faith. This pandemic may have given us the opportunity to look beyond our immediate likes and needs. It has enhanced our sense of community, of our looking after one another beyond family, of caring for the common good. Despite the distance and restrictions, despite the polarization in some quarters, we have learned to be more intimate with people, more discerning of our common challenges and opportunities in building up friendships and communities. We have come to embrace our humanity and our faith in the Almighty.
In any event, because we want to attend packed “simbang gabi” masses, real reunions, walking around to shop not online and food galore with flowing drinks as we share tsismis and jokes by next year, we urge one and all to remain vigilant and steadfast in abiding by the protocols – to stay as much as necessary, to socially distance, to wear masks (and face shields), wash our hands frequently and, yes, restrain ourselves from eating too much to compensate for staying at home most of the time.
But, as has been our experience thus far, the problem really is not that the public is unaware o rthat we refuse to heed the protocols. The past months in lockdown has shown beyond any doubt that our people are willing and have, in fact, abided by the protocols even sacrificing jobs and other needs beyond measure. They have endured the lockdowns, tests and other restrictions. In short, they have done their part in keeping the virus at bay, as it were.
The problem, in large part, has been the negligence and insensitivity not to mention incompetence of many of our officials in preparing the COVID-19 response plan to implementing and coordinating the agreed action plan down to the littlest barangay. The brouhaha over the acquisition of the vaccine to inoculate our essential workers and the vulnerable sector, slow down the transmission of the virus and lift our spirits and confidence to restart our lives is just the latest among the many missteps which have visited us since the first COVID-19 case was detected. Our people can only endure so much. They have to be guided and be provided the means to get back on with their lives. They do not enjoy and cannot afford to be wards of government or other people for long.
They expect their leaders, in and out of government, to show the way out of this pandemic. They will definitely not countenance any more missteps especially cover ups as we transit and nurse ourselves into the New Year.