COVID-19: On its 3rd year – A Review

TORONTO – All years start off with a bang. The firecrackers, the confetti. We all look up at Times Square and wait for the ball to drop. And in 2020, indeed, the ball dropped on all of us. Barely a quarter into the year, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) dropped that word on us: “pandemic”. The world, as we knew it, had capsized. There go our big plans. And our even bigger dreams, now reduced to abstract concepts. 

I got stranded in the Philippines. Didn’t see that one coming. Of all the places to be stranded at the height of a global pandemic, I found myself smack dab in the middle of a third world country. I can explain. I had to be there. I needed to be there. When your siblings get sick, you have no other recourse than to pack your bags and be by their side.

\Little did I know in January 2020 that the world as we know would cease to exist a mere two months later. And the Philippines was no different than any other country around the world. It too was subjected to incessant lockdowns. Of course, supermarkets and corner stores remained open to feed the community. Everything else was shut down. Witnessing Manila, paralyzed in this way, was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The word “uncertainty” splashed across headlines. But to my mind, “survival” stood out the most.

Somehow, I achieved repatriation some 6 months later and never before had I been most grateful to make it back to Toronto. For if there is anywhere in this world where you will stand a greater chance of surviving a killer virus, it is here on Canadian soil. This is where we have clean water. This is where we have food. This is where we have the best health care resources in the world. Where else can you find diligent civil service workers phoning you diligently, checking up on your welfare, as you sit out mandatory quarantine, thanking your lucky stars that you got to see the light of Canada once again. Canada is like that. It really takes care of its people. Even if you were that prodigal son who disappeared for 6 months abroad, for a non-vacation turned nightmare.

While in quarantine, I thought about a lot of things (there wasn’t much else to do!). At the time, I thought that this pandemic would come and go. By this time next year, it would all be a blur. How naïve. Had I lived through the Spanish Flu of 1918, I probably would have had harsher words of wisdom to share. But one major thing to our advantage has been undoubtedly our 21 st century technology.

For who could have foreseen that by the end of 2020, there would already be talks of an actual vaccine against COVID-19. Vaccines take decades to be developed; some may never even get discovered. Moderna, Pfizer, there they were, about to be handed out to us in the West. And the speed at which these were disbursed sparked mass controversy with the rise of anti-vaxxers and weekly protests (ongoing in 2023, almost every Saturday in downtown Toronto).

The disinformation that continues to flood social media is unrelentless. The whole thing about some billionaire’s involvement and how a person’s DNA could be permanently altered – this kind of fear mongering did not help us get through the pandemic. This belief system led to even more unnecessary deaths.

Alas, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Once the vaccines were deployed, our cities slowly were brought back to life. Children returned to in-person learning. Restaurants and department stores started re-opening. Our economy was ready to rebuild. Enough to let us travel again, internationally. Not that I have taken the big leap again yet. I learned my lesson already back in 2020!

Travel, as we know it now, has its own set of problems: unruly passengers. Earlier on, these defiant travellers would be featured on the news, punching out other people – all because they were told to wear a face mask. Suddenly, flight attendants were turned into ad hoc flight bodyguards, separating people as fists flew through the air. Like watching children break out into a brawl in the school play yard. All this, captured on international news. Imagine being banned for like from flying. All because you could not put your ego in check.

We are into our 3rd year now of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I am all too grateful to be alive to be able to share my story of survival with you. I do have my booster vaccines to thank and all the scientists, doctors who worked together to refine this technology to guarantee humankind’s survival. Canada is doing well with over 80% vaccinated. We have gone back to hanging out in food courts; actually showing up in-person at the office; and chucking the face mask (for the most part), but still being respectful towards those in our population who are immune-compromised. We are still in a pandemic, but things are looking brighter than they did in 2020. In fact, life is beginning to feel a lot more like 2019. But it could be better, don’t you agree?

But what would a global pandemic be, if we emerged from it without truly absorbing valuable lessons that we picked up along the way? COVID-19 is not going away. There will be other pandemics. This reality has shone a searchlight on social issues that existed well before any killer virus. Like homeless, for instance, which rose by 34%.

Take a look around you in downtown Toronto. What do you really see? Not to mention the cost of living and food prices that continue to skyrocket. The war did not make things any easier on this world. But to live in a place like Canada where food is forever on your table, you have a safe place to sleep every night and you don’t have to worry about foreign invasions – I’ll take that any day.

In the pic above, Ricky Castellvi on his gathering news