The New Year has just been rung in and yet, because of the Omicron variant and holiday fueled surge, it feels like 2021 all over again.
Whatever gains we made in the fight against COVID-19 throughout the entire year of 2021 that allowed us to started enjoying December have been wiped out because of a government that preferred to stay in denial over Omicron instead of ringing the alarm bells. We are here once again because our boomer command composed of retired generals and politicos probably thought they won the war and it would be better for the economy and their poll ratings if they let Filipinos jingle bell through the holidays.
It initially felt like the holidays would be cancelled once more when news of Omicron first blew up. However, the sneaky variant that was discovered just as the holiday season was ramping up quickly flew under the radar after being found to cause “mild” symptoms of COVID-19 despite being the most infectious version yet.
Although some countries like the Netherlands reacted to the Omicron threat with the imposition of a holiday lockdown that naturally bummed out its people, many countries cautiously returned to business as usual. On the other end of the spectrum was the Philippines, where the economy was just starting to open up after two years of restrictions and lockdowns and everyone was expecting to benefit from a long-awaited holiday season boost.
So, while Omicron was becoming the dominant strain in other countries that obviously had better testing systems in place, we spent most of December being told by government that there were literally a handful of such cases in the country. Emboldened by government’s lack of concern of Omicron, Filipinos who missed their beloved holiday season dropped their guard and made the most of December 2021 to gather, reunite and party in ways that they assumed were “safe enough.”
The resilient, fun-loving and gullible Filipinos continued partying and gathering throughout December. Companies held Christmas parties, families were reunited, gatherings became standard. Even those who have been exercising maximum caution would make one or two exceptions because life and the holidays finally felt close to normal.
Now we are here. The holidays are finally over and from achieving the lowest number cases and positivity rate just around a month ago, we have collectively managed to turn things around and are now in the midst of a massive surge that makes January 2022 feel like January 2021 all over again.
Although science can be ignored and the numbers manipulated, we know by now what should be done if we want to get back to our best score that was achieved last month.
The quickest way to do it would be to immediately go into a 10-14 day lockdown. That is the best way to stop the chain of transmission that we allowed to go crazy during the holidays. If our government can afford to do that, we may be able to get back to early December statistics by mid-January. After that if we can use the lessons we learned from December, along with the hope that the holiday season gatherings temporarily satisfied our need to socialize, we might be able to maintain our winning streak for a longer period to start 2022.
If a lockdown is impossible, we will have to actively find ways to stop and reverse our holiday transmission of Omicron. If only we know what they meant, raising alert levels might work. On the part of employers, it may make sense to go into full work from home mode for the next two weeks as a precaution. Employees that can WFH should be made to WFH on the condition that they stay home as much as possible during that time. If enough employers do it at the same time, maximum WFH could break a major link in the chain of transmission.
If WFH cannot be done, then it is up to the employees to practice maximum safety protocols while at work. Full-time mask wearing is critical. This means no taking off masks as much as possible. No shared meals for the time being, especially if dining areas are confined and poorly ventilated spaces. Staggering break and meal times so less people are eating and/or drinking together can help more than face shield usage.
For friends and families, there has to be a temporary ban on gatherings outside our immediate bubbles, at least until the infections stats go back to manageable levels.
We were able to almost get to normal levels of infections in early December and we should be able to do that again if we start 2022 by acting quickly and decisively.
2022 can still be so much better than 2021 if we do all we can to achieve what we did in one year over the course of its first month and then use the lessons learned from the holiday-Omicron blunder to keep COVID infections and outbreaks at bay for as long as we can, while government continues to fully vaccinate and boost the population as fast as it can.
The only question is if our government is going to do something about this surge and give us the 2022 that we deserve or are we just going to keep denying there is a problem until it is too big to ignore, giving us another replay of the disaster movie that is 2020.*