Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Americans, vexed at tight social restrictions, frantically seek to open up as summer approaches. Throw in November's US presidential elections and Russia's current 93,000 virus cases, and new spikes could afflict the world. Was Covid19 cooked up in Wuhan chem lab, not derived from wild animals as China claims? PRESIDENT TRUMP APPEARS CONVINCED THAT THE LAB THEORY IS IT . Or is it?

As of today, statistics from CNN stated that over 3 million cases of the Coronavirus have been reported worldwide, of which some 211, 350 were deaths from various parts of the world. Of the total affected, more than one million virus afflictions have hit the  US, plus some 58,365 deaths. Even Russia reports some 93,000 ill cases. A pandemic alright. 

The interesting thing about these figures is that  even as they appear to be growing, there's a restlessness in the US---the country that has been affected the most also because it's the largest in the world. With summer approaching, there's tremendous pressure from US citizens themselves to loosen up on restrictions earlier imposed. 


For one thing, weather in the Western Hemisphere is improving as spring has turned the corner, working into summer in a few weeks. While virus afflictions continue to result in either illness or death, figures are plateauing in an entire continent that has grappled with this virus for many months now. It's obvious from interviews that Americans are plainly tired of lock-downs and restrictions, and are ready to cautiously junk their protective gear and enjoy the beaches and the outdoors.

The question is, how much to open up and throw caution to the wind?  I was listening to CNN earlier tonight and an American official was discussing with the emcee about the possibility of beaches opening up, though with proper social distancing. As he spoke, photos of beach scenes that looked kinda crowded appeared on the screen, and it was obvious that distancing would be the  toughest thing to impose among the gregarious Americans---after a terrible locked-down winter dominated by the virus. 


The official also spoke about the need to jump-start other activities such as sports and shopping malls, as closure of so many business outlets has hurt the economy so much. It is said that some 26.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks---a phenomenon never seen before even in the Great Depression. Thus, this plan to reopen America seems to have become imperative. 

Reopening the economy, however, has to be done with a lot of care and caution, and we can only wish the American people good luck. We know how the virus can be so contagious, and super-gregarious Americans are given to hugging and kissing---all too often defiant of social distancing. But it's not only the Americans who will open up but also the Europeans and the Australians, as the weather warms up a bit. 

At this point, state authorities could try to still impose social distancing, but for folks who have been restricted so much, this is like holding back waters from a huge damn whose floodgates have broken loose. How will the virus behave when social distancing is thrown to the winds? Virologists are warning of spikes as much as 78,000 cases next winter. 


THERE IS ANOTHER COMPLICATING PROBLEM:  the presidential elections are coming up in November---with Republic President Trump vying vs. Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden. The elections will, of course, trigger feverish political  campaigning---goodbye to social distancing, throw caution to the winds. 

The campaign season has unofficially began---with former First Lady and Senator Hillary Clinton just recently having endorsed Joe Biden for president.


Another issue: did  the coronavirus that has killed nearly three million people and afflicted another million really come from "host species" among wild animals such as the pangolin and wild bats---as China insists?  Or was the virus "synthesized" by theWuhan Institute of Viriology (WIV), where the disease was first identified and then inflicted upon the world?

A French and a Japanese scientist who were awardees of world-renowned scientific honors were earlier also quoted as expressing some doubt about the Covid 19 virus as originating from wild animals, Some scientists have also noted that this virus shares "an uncanny similarity with HIV."


Thus, doubts and counter-doubts have persisted in the past week about the nature of this virus that has wreaked such terrible havoc on the world. President Trump HAS COME TO ASSERT that the probability is high that the virus has originated from that Wuhan laboratory, which China is expected to deny vigorously. 

And so the plot thickens, even as worries are stirred anew about how social distancing could be practiced in various beaches, social clubs and theaters in the summer in Europe and America, and amidst the furious political campaigning for the fall national elections in the US. Will all these happenings spike new highs in this pandemic? 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The tragedy in our midst from the deadly virus---as dished out in ever-growing statistics by competing media orgs---quite heart-breaking and most worrisome for the world's population.

Because of the Covid 19 virus, the world has become captive to the huge media outlets for the latest statistics. 

Everyday for the past two weeks, I have been tuning on, rather obsessively, I must admit, to this Covid 19 pandemic that is upon us, and though I have lived long enough on this earth, so that I should no longer be overwhelmed by anything at all---I cannot help but be just that. 

I am simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of this pandemic that started from a hitherto unknown virus that came from a couple of wild animals in the small, obscure city of Wuhan in China's central province of Hubei. This virus has now victimized over a million dead people, and nearly as many are hovering in the twilight zone.


Among those who are quite ill are very close friends of mine:  former Senator Sonny Alvarez and my radio partner, Cecile Alvarez. They are fighting for their lives in a hospital in Manila and I'd like to implore prayers for these two most patriotic citizens.

I have cried enough, especially since my only surviving sister also finally left this world after many weeks in the hospital---with tubes inserted into her throat to aide her breathing---right at the height of Covid19.


Over the past days I have been transfixed before the TV, listening to all the heart-wrenching stories of families from around the world who are afflicted by this virus, and the bravery and stoicism with which they have put up with it among families and friends.

What overwhelms me is the magnitude of the pandemic and the innumerable lives that it has afflicted in a most terrible way all around the world---either very ill or dead---and how their surviving loved ones have had to deal with these grim realities, despite their being in constant threat of contamination. 


As a result of this pandemic, we who have led relatively easy and rewarding lives will never be the same again ---even if we survive this virus. Our parents and grandparents have had to live with their own pandemic challenges in their time, and now we are going through the same cycle.

Our parents and grandparents have had to confront epidemics which easily turned pandemic in those times of smaller populations and less mobility---as well as far less developed medical science (no antibiotics as yet). Among those were the cholera and influenza epidemics of the late 1800s, and much earlier, the smallpox and the bubonic plague (termed the "Black Plague" ). 

So gripping were these mass plagues in those earlier eras that  famed French-Algerian novelist Albert Camus was encouraged to write his classic work, "The Plague," in 1947. This work won Camus the Nobel Prize in 1957, when he was 44 years old.


Over the past days, as I would shift from one international TV news channel to another, at first I was merely the jaded media person listening to all the stories and the flood of statistics of afflictions from one country to another, and so on. Eventually, what I found intriguing was the inevitable blame-game among various  people. 

But over the past few days I began to be very affected by all the dire broadcasts, especially when I couldn't even say goodbye to my own dying sister as a result of this pandemic. This physical distancing was understandably dictated by the virus, but it didn't also give much allowance at all for emotional distancing---my sister had to be cremated right away before we relatives could gather.  

Since that episode--- where I couldn't even say goodbye to my sister because of the need to keep physical as well as emotional distance---I began to sense that something in me was being transformed. 


It was not only my sister's passing, as that was expected: she had been confined in St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City for as long as four months. I think it was more like I was drowning in the grim statistics that I was feeding on from the various international news channels day after day---about how people were dying like flies in various parts of the world---most especially in the most advanced countries. They were dying because of the vicious coronavirus and how fearful the peoples of the world have all become, because of it! 

What a time we are living in! Simply unforgettable. This pandemic has changed our world and our lives more than we will ever know or imagine or care to admit.


Each generation manages to live through an epidemic or even a pandemic of sorts. I heard all about the past happenings from my parents as I grew up and in my history studies at the UP.  

 But living through one actual pandemic now---the corona virus --- amid the tireless news about its pandemic nature, as brought into our homes and workplaces every hour on the hour by various highly competitive international media channels--- has assured me of the reality of pandemics, where before these used to be mere stories from my parents and elder siblings.


The super-stiff competition among the huge media channels for thorough coverage of the Covid 19 pandemic has assured us of all the news we want to hear---every hour on the hour. But I'm afraid that it has also produced such a numbing effect on many of us human beings. For many folks around the world, it has fast become just one of those everyday occurrences in the world, cold statistics on who, where, when, etc. 

This is what a pandemic produces in the ultimate---most worrisome, most frightening.