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Choose your own (mobility) adventure

Choose your own (mobility) adventure

Mikko David

Back in my elementary years more than 30 years ago, gamebooks became a popular pastime and collectors item for kids. “Choose Your Own Adventure” was a series of books with different stories that presented different options to the reader on how to proceed with the story.

Each option would lead to a different ending to the story. Different choices led to different endings and it was the reader who would pick from the available choices, skipping parts of the story to get to the ending their choices would eventually present. This concept kept us young readers entertained, hooked and craving for the next book in the series.

Since the start of the this Covid -19 pandemic two years ago, the government has been giving us clear choices to avoid infection and to reduce the spread of the disease. Sometimes the choices were bitter pills we needed to swallow in order to move forward. Other times, they were dubious mandates such as face shield-wearing or putting up plastic barriers. But one choice always remained on the table, and that is to stay home.

In December, buoyed by the low new infection numbers reported by the Department of Health, more and more people headed out to shop, dine, gather and be merry. It was Christmas and New Year after all. Traffic returned with a vengeance necessitating the re-implementation of number coding. We all thought that after almost two years of quarantine life, we could finally go out and rejoice and the worst was over. Little did we know that the worst was just about to come.

With the arrival of the more transmissible Omicron variant, people who went out to celebrate the holidays, along with their family and friends became infected with Covid-19. The vaccines seemed ineffective in protecting people from infection as they were led to believe.

Back in October, we predicted that the increased mobility government and business sectors were pushing would lead to more cases. But because Covid-19 vaccination of Metro Manila residents went full steam, we were able to get a respite from the lockdowns and enjoy a semblance of normality over the holidays.

At one point, new Covid-19 infections were down to 200 a day even as our neighbors were still hovering in the thousands. “It’s very safe to go out,” said Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion just last December 27th. And so we did.

Businesses flourished again, we visited our families, hung out with friends and almost, just almost, lived the life we knew before Covid-19 happened.

How then can it become one of the safest places to be in, with the lowest numbers in the region at around 200 plus, to one of the worst in just two weeks time? The answer? Omicron.

Just a couple of weeks ago, 40,000 new cases a day was a mere estimate as the worst case scenario we can expect once the more infectious Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus would take hold in the country. Today, it is already a reality.

More worrying is that there are just the numbers coming from RT-PCR testing by the accredited labs. How about those who were positive from antigen rapid testing? How many more are self-medicating and just hoarding paracetamol? Or those willfully ignoring the symptoms they are experiencing and not undergoing the proper testing at all? Those who are still heading out, doing their usual business while being potential spreaders of Covid-19. Are we not going to acknowledge we are in deep shit yet?

The good thing is, Omicron’s impact seems to be less severe than the last surge we had with the Delta variant. Metro Manila is about 100% vaccinated adding another level of reassurance. Hospital utilization rates are still currently lower than the Delta surge last year. But the problem now is no longer the number of beds. It is the number of available, non-infected medical staff and frontliners.

With Omicron 4 to 5 times more infectious, our frontliners have already been hard hit. Even with its mild effects, medical protocol calls for quarantining of medical staff from 5 to 10 days. These next two weeks will probably have a serious shortage of frontliners in our hospitals.

The same goes for domestic and international air travel. PAL canceled a number of flights because they were short-staffed as crews were infected by Covid-19 over the holidays. Our roads have lighter traffic now because people have finally wisened up and stayed home either because they are sick with Covid-19 or are afraid of getting it.

Just look at your Facebook feed and count how many of your friends are either positive with covid-19, isolating, quarantining, or just dealing with the symptoms without testing for fear of learning they are positive.

Complicated by the seasonal flu, it looks like a 50-50 chance of getting infected by Covid when you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms like coughing, fever, fatigue, or sore throat. Mobility options have not lessened and it will be a sure vector of more viral spread. The number of new infections a day and the near-50% positivity rate are all ingredients of another lockdown. Unfortunately, for the sake of our economy and our livelihoods, it is a solution that can no longer be considered.

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So what can we do now? Like the gamebooks of yore, we should choose our own adventure, and choose them wisely. We need to work, yes. We need to earn a living and put food on our tables, yes. But we also have to protect ourselves and our loved ones by adhering to health protocols. And this includes following isolation and quarantine guidelines.

If the government will not declare Alert Level 4 in Metro Manila, why not consider staying at home and waiting out this surge? Even if the cases seem to be mostly mild, the overwhelming number of infections will increase the number of those who are experiencing moderate and severe cases. And that means the distinct possibility of once again filling up our now short-staffed hospitals and health care facilities.

If you’re already feeling the symptoms associated with an Omicron Covid-19 infection – body aches, muscle pain, headache, tiredness or fatigue, don’t dismiss them. Quarantine yourself from the rest of your family and friends. Err on the side of caution. Get an antigen test, or better yet, an RT-PCR test to be more certain.

Dismissing symptoms you feel as just normal flu, could mean life and death for the people around you or those you interact with outside your house. You may feel “okay”, but the next person you infect could be part of that 9% who will experience moderate symptoms, or that 1% who will be affected severely. You could send a loved one or a friend to the hospital without knowing it. All because you were too stubborn and arrogant to get tested.

Please, spare those of us who are doing our best not to get infected.

We have long acknowledged that Covid-19 is here to stay. And that we should learn to live with the virus for the foreseeable future. This means though that we have to be smarter in our daily routines, safer in our commutes, and wiser in our interactions.

Mobility will always be the double-edged sword. It will get us around and enable us to work and earn a living. But it will also keep the virus spreading. For the sake of the new year and your loved ones’ safety, change the way you think. Be more considerate of others and drop the notion that the world revolves around you.

Now more than ever, we need to make the right choices in order to get to that happy ending we all want.