The end of the world

In early February after I travelled to one of the coldest places in the Philippines where even the vegetables were frosting at freezing temperatures, I developed a slight fever as I went back to work. It was an ordinary thing until I was reminded that the world is in a crisis mode brought by the novel coronavirus that is causing illness and death worldwide.

The news that the Philippines has just reported its first case alarmed our group as we were travelling down the mountain roads back to the city. The next pieces of news took a natural course the way of disease outbreaks because a second person who tested positive died, and the number of people under observation continued to increase.

Country after country reported theirs. China, site of the pandemic epicenter, has locked down and quarantined its affected areas. Photos from around the world showed medical professionals in full hospital and laboratory gear and seas of people wearing protective face masks.

In the Philippines, the face masks have run out from drugstores since January after Taal Volcano, one of the country’s active volcanoes, erupted, causing a hazy and ashfall-heavy air.

So on a brief travel from Yangon to Bangkok in mid-January, I hoarded all kinds of face masks from Bangkok’s 7-11 stores and gave away a few to family and friends for some form of protection. I’m not really a hoarder as I have been using face masks since five years ago as protection from pollution, from riding congested transport such as the metrorail, and prevention of rhinitis attack.

The volcano and the virus provided a startling beginning of the year. But that was not yet it. As the volcanic alert level stayed and the death toll and case count from the virus continues, a few more countries report the death of pigs from African swine flu, a spillover from the 2019 outbreak that has affected food production and supply. Others report outbreaks of the reemerging H5N8 bird flu virus.

It is an unsettling experience that has creeped into conversations with friends, some of whom say that we may be in a prelude to the end of the world. When we see the casualty count rise each time we read the updates, or when specific news say people are dropping dead one by one, the notion may be true.