Volcano, Virus and Vulnerabilities


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

For comments, spjavier2958@yahoo.com

As the year 2020 ushered in, we smothered everyone with greetings for a happy new year. Wishes of prosperity and bliss, good health, longer lives and greater success abundantly flowed across social media groups and gatherings. Yet, the joyous start of 2020 was somehow short-lived. Less than two weeks onto the Year of the Rat, the celebratory mood was instantaneously squelched by a relatively small but active mound of rock and earth in Batangas province. Last demonstrating its eruptive fury more than 40 years ago, Taal Volcano’s phreatic eruption sent thousands of families away from the danger zone as the authorities raised the warning to Alert Level 4 [hazardous eruption imminent].

As ashfall blanketed many towns and municipalities – affecting the Calabarzon area and Metro Manila, the Christmas-weary communities began scrambling for masks and other protective items to arm themselves prior to a possible eruption.

Over at the Makati Medical Center, the concerned hospital teams and ancillary units immediately convened to discuss contingency plans for a worst case scenario – an Alert Level 5 [hazardous eruption in progress]. It soon became obvious that many remained vulnerable to one of the world’s most active volcanos – not excluding healthcare institutions. Soon, the hospital procurement and inventory units got deluged by demands for surgical masks and N95s. The emergency room also began stocking up on most common respiratory medications, aerosols, inhalers among others.

While efforts were being geared towards revisiting staffing contingencies, activating crisis task force, replenishing dwindling stocks of vital supplies and equipment in anticipation of a nature’s fiery fury, another one of nature’s unseen forces surreptitiously crept onto man’s consciousness and menacingly threatened health and survival. A microorganism this time, a virus shaped like a crown (called 2019 nCoV, now called Covid-19) started to create an impact on populations of cities and countries around the globe – first in Wuhan City in Hubei Province in China and eventually found its way later to nearly 30 countries around the world – including the United States and Europe.

The ultra-tiny microscopic creature thus exposed the vulnerabilities of nations, governments and institutions. Harsh measures had to be taken – entire city lockdowns, travel bans, event cancellations, mandatory quarantines, forced evacuations, among others. By early February, many countries had banned travels to China, Hongkong, Macau, Taiwan [and the list was by no means final – as more countries reported rising numbers]. An online editorial could not have put it more wisely and appropriately – as it maintained that in fact, the biggest threat was not the virus, not the Chinese – but the panic. As fears and anxieties arose, the proliferation of false information and fake news worsened an already chaotic global community. In China, stock markets plummeted, businesses slowed down, factories ceased to operate and bustling metropolitan cities virtually turned into ghost towns.

Glaringly, Covid-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of the world to international pandemics. More tellingly, the frailty of the human spirit became manifest – as societies struggled for their preservation and protection. Chinese xenophobia [Sino-phobia] engulfed many people all over the world. Racism took a front seat in many communities – as if being a Chinese was tantamount to having the corona virus. One wonders if the potentially global health menace was just a fuse that was lit and set off a conflagration of racism and distrust. Hongkong went even farther – as medical groups and works threatened to boycott their workplaces if authorities did not close all of its borders with China. Those were Chinese wanting to stay away from fellow Chinese.

Arguably, when self-preservation needs to be pursued, when personal comfort and safety are threatened, will people summarily succumb to their vulnerabilities and work towards their own interests and themselves – only?

The new year integrated the Philippine volcano and the corona virus in the vicissitudes of Philippine daily life. The irony of the ‘small’ casting a pall of gloom and doom on the ‘mighty and the strong’ across the country [or even across the universe], could not be overemphasized. While the mighty fury of a volcanic eruption could certainly wipe out communities and towns, the quiet unseen path of Covid-19 proved to be more powerful. Through these all, it becomes clear that the steps we take, the changes we institute, the coping mechanisms we adopt – will inevitably determine how best we overcome our vulnerabilities and provide us with the armor borne out of science, our humanity and our faith to confront these challenges.

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