Santa Claus died this Christmas!

Santa Claus died this Christmas! Featured

WHEN coronavirus hyphenated 2019, owning it, many thought Covid-19 a passing global health anomaly, until China reluctantly admitted that the virus shared a genetic code with the dreaded severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that killed countless of its citizens in 2003. Surprisingly transparent, China shared laboratory findings with disease centers all over the world. More importantly, it locked down and quarantined Wuhan, from whence the virus originated, averting the spread of the contagion in China itself. This was year-end 2019 and beginning 2020. Happy new year!

Not in the United States. As usual, the world looked up to America for guidance with its vast resources, expertise and the technological muscle to defeat this contagion. But the world failed to consider America's president irresponsibly trivializing the contagion and downplaying the scourge despite the mounting numbers of Americans infected and dying. The US abdicated its leadership role, surrendering its prerogatives to China whose lockdowns and quarantines proved to be effective and became the template for impeding the spread of the pandemic, pending the introduction of a vaccine.

Trump took a different path, repudiating a federally authorized nationwide lockdowns and quarantines as business-averse, anti-democratic and impinging on the sacred constitutionally protected rights of Americans in their pursuit of life, liberty, happiness...blah, blah, blah!

Trump pursued "Operation Warp Speed" production of vaccine as America's deus ex machina that was to eradicate the scourge, aside from his demented idea of "injections of disinfectants and cleaning liquids and ultra-violet lights inside the body."

This trade-off for the cherished American concept of individual freedoms versus quarantines proved to be disastrous to American lives. Experts now agree that had lockdowns and quarantine been mandated while simultaneously accelerating vaccine production, more than two-thirds of American lives could have been saved. The vaccines were supposed to be available by year-end 2020. It didn't happen. Delays and bureaucratic hurdles pushed availability to the first quarter of 2021, though in limited quantities under an emergency use authorization (EUA). By this time, the pandemic had unleashed its fury, devastating the world's economies, causing 180 million infections and killing almost 4 million. Six hundred thousand of these were Americans, the greatest number of deaths globally. This was year-end 2020 and beginning 2021. Happy new year!

Year-end 2021

Today, I am ensconced with the American half of my family, for months isolated in a farming community, away from the big cities. We have all been vaccinated — including my grandchildren, 6, 8 10 years old. But we have this dark pall of dread hovering over us. We don't feel safe. The best minds in America foresee this highly transmissible mutation with mild symptoms to replace the much deadlier Delta variant. Like the common cold, people can't avoid catching this — but the top health and medical American guru, Dr. Anthony Fauci, declares that Omicron is much less severe and could peak by late January, no longer posing a fatal threat. I don't believe them! At year-end, a record-breaking daily average of 386,004 Americans were infected with a daily morbidity rate of 1,300 — mimicking similar figures in late 2020.

I see all around us even in this small community people oblivious to the peril. American media has been reporting that those seriously infected by Omicron are mostly the unvaccinated ones (38 percent), who boastfully call themselves in macabre fashion the "great unvaxxed." "They remain defiant as Omicron spreads among the 39 million adult population who have yet to get their first dose and 15 percent of these people (5.85 million) are at the greatest risk of illness and death overwhelming hospitals already full of Covid patients." (New York Times, Dec. 25, 2021)

Pandemic's legacy

But this column is not just about the pandemic per se. It is about how Covid impacts our lives from hereon in. The dominant leitmotif that Covid imposed was redefining the majesty of death and its associated rituals injecting the pre-eminence of fear, compelling a renewed appreciation of our own mortality. In the past two years, Covid and non-Covid morbidities took away more than two dozen of my intimates — classmates, friends and families. In the lingo of my septuagenarian peers, "...we are the venerable vulnerable, transitioning from the pre-departure area." And those temporarily left behind live with their terrors undiminished, condemned to adhere to a strict observance of Covid protocols, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

Wakes and funerals

Traditional Filipino death social gatherings particularly in the barrios are large and sometimes raucous complete with their own unique etiquette; the drama of bidding goodbye by loud public wailing and tearing out the hair; hovering over the remains with muttered prayers and soft tears; and reaffirming bonds with the immediate family with caresses. Now banned!

Reconnecting people one hasn't seen in decades requires close physical presence; enemies exchanging forgiveness for longstanding hurts, mostly "en pectore," the deceased as central alibi to correct such social negligence; these are essentials to expressing bereavement and loss. Today cremations are de rigueur, and funeral densities are prescribed, counter-intuitive to paying one's respects to ashes in a vase.

The nightly novena prayers are reduced to cold, antiseptic and impersonal Zoom internet apps substituting for what was intended to be a warm and intimate portrayal of shared sadness and sorrow with those left behind.

A bizarre Christmas 2021

But for my family in America, Covid cruelly restricted our Christmas celebrations. For one, we can't attend a Simbang Gabi as going to church exposes one to Omicron lurking somewhere. We are in a perpetual state of fear of infection.

Religious festivities are central to Christian countries, like the Philippines and America. Christmas is the birth of baby Jesus, our redeemer, but celebrated mostly for kids. Commercialized by the West, we brooked no expenses to make this one day, every year, a memorable and festive one. Enter Santa, who operates from the North Pole with his army of elves producing toys 364 days of the year and with his reindeer-driven sleigh delivers presents to only the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. He doesn't deliver to Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu children.

My grandkids may have already convinced themselves that Santa will not be visiting this time due to the international Covid travel restrictions but will send presents via UPS. Santa may not have been vaccinated and could pick up Omicron in these travels. He could be anti-vaxx or worse, may already be quarantined somewhere. I'm afraid that by the time Covid goes away, my grandkids will have grown up discovering for themselves that Santa is fictional. This spells his death. And that a host of other narratives portrayed in the Christmas story were mostly fictional and have been embellished over the millennia. ("A politically correct Christmas story?" The Manila Times, Dec. 27, 2017). But I will not share this version with Max, Javier, Sylvie, Oliver, Claudie and Sabine just yet.

I couldn't remember a bad Christmas, ever. But with the Delta variant and now Omicron, 2021's was a bad one. With God's grace we will survive this latest mutation — hoping that 2022 will be better than 2021, 2020 and 2019.

Be safe, all!

Read 742 times Last modified on Wednesday, 05 January 2022 13:30
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