If we do not know the endpoint of an event, how do we move towards it? What do you do when deep-seated tiredness steps in—a place where you are past the breaking point emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually?
When you keep hearing crashing waves as you lie in bed even though you have long left the sea, what is the remedy?
The unrelenting drumbeat of Covid-19 brings personal sadness. The bad news never ceases. The isolation and the fear tighten the invisible noose around us.
We are exhausted and tired of wearing masks and being restricted from meeting friends and family; doing this and that, with no end in sight. Yet, this fatigue can lead to reckless chances, which would give rise to more cases, prolonging the assault on our mental health.
How to feel when we see that 328 persons have died in the first 15 days of December from Covid-related causes? Or when our daily new cases cross 1,000 per day? Or when the number of breakthrough cases increases?
The main threat we now face is the escalating speed of the transmission rate. The virus efficiently finds those among us who are not vaccinated or have compromised immune systems.
We are seeing families reeling from connected infections. We are now witnessing deaths among the socially defenceless, whose jobs put them in the front line to serve others.
Will we shrug once the virus does not cross our doorstep? Do we not feel the pain of our fellow men?
What should be our response now that our funeral homes are overwhelmed, and there are few available beds in our hospitals? The health system is swamped. This week, frank admissions from the health authorities and a front line doctor attested to this reality.
After 20 months of unrelenting stress, our doctors and nurses are exhausted. The trauma of caring has burnt them out, and careless public statements must have demoralised them. They are also getting ill, and several have taken drastic steps to protect their families.
We even saw newspaper stories from local recovering patients about the lack of capacity to treat patients with dignity. Overseas, the Omicron variant is overtaking the Delta because of its superior transmission rate. Even though apparently a milder variant, it will still strain our hospital capacity.
Will we manage it any better, given our underlying comorbidities? We have no clue what will happen to the death rate then. Or maybe we do but refuse to admit it.
Nine PAHO countries have reported the presence of Omicron; do we think it will not arrive here? Or that, if it does, that would mean our health leaders are negligent?
When we heard Watson Duke say that he was in good health one day and sick the next, did we think he was up to his usual tricks? Then what about our Miss World entrant, Jeanine Brandt, who tested positive in Puerto Rico one day after reporting that she felt well?
He may not be vaccinated, but most likely, she was. The incubation period—the time between infection and symptoms—now appears to be shortening. Let us face the facts.
Can we connect these new dots? What does this mean for us? Chaos?
We do not face an individualistic challenge; managing the effects of the virus calls us to think and act for the common good. We have not been able to do so since March 2020. We remain a divided people with a challenge that requires unity at the societal level.
Those vaccinated six months ago now seek a booster because we feel more exposed anew. It is not that vaccines do not work, but the disease is morphing, and our knowledge base is increasing. We are in a real cat-and-mouse game.
This situation reminds me of the challenges of commercial baking and the need to constantly tweak the recipes because of the different consistencies of wheat harvests. This struggle is just the reality of nature.
But we complicate the work of the scientists when we allow mutations to flourish because we do not wish to take the small victories. The virus is a shape shifter, requiring continuously redesigned tactics.
New knowledge brings new tactics. This is how it works.
An August 2021 study indicates that if you had Covid-19 before and are not vaccinated, your risk of getting re-infected is more than two times higher than for those who got vaccinated after having Covid-19.
Another study in September 2021 showed that roughly one-third of those in the study with Covid-19 cases had no apparent natural immunity.
A third study in November 2021 looked at adults hospitalised for Covid-like sickness between January and September 2021. This study found that the chances of these adults testing positive for Covid-19 were 5.49 times higher in unvaccinated people who had had Covid-19 in the past than they were for those who had been vaccinated for Covid and had not had an infection before.
Those who argue for ‘natural immunity’ enabled by infection ignore the significant risks of severe illness and possible death. They disregard the lingering effects—‘long Covid’ is what the virus does to the body—despite the recent televised testimonial by a recovering patient.
Conspiracy theories depend on a profoundly negative assessment of human motivation, which is antithetical to Christian belief, even though others may choose to believe these theories. These theories pit the rights of the individual against the common good and sidestep questions about how the community should live.
Adopting an adversarial stance, they inhibit the possibility of cooperative enquiry. By relying heavily on insinuation and question-begging, conspiracy theories are rarely advanced positively by unfettered analysis and investigation from a broad range of rational agents.
How can the Church mediate the common good if it promotes and embraces conspiracy theories? From which quarter will come temperance and wisdom coupled with a sense of social justice?
Some believe that the virus presents no real threat to Christians because the blood of Jesus is mighty enough to save them from the disease. Sadly, this position finds little support in the Bible’s teaching.
Paul’s advice about ‘a little wine for our stomach’s sake’ (1 Timothy 5: 23) was medical wisdom. It is believed that Timothy had a stomach ailment, so this counsel was provided.
Jesus’ blood is powerful, and God has also given us science and doctors. Some illnesses, like diabetes, cannot be cured, but we can live everyday lives with medical management.
Finding reliable information about your disease, fiddling with different medicines until you get the appropriate one and positive lifestyle changes are all part of managing long-term illnesses. Why are we approaching this virus differently?
Others, including national evangelical leaders, quote Paul’s words as a defence against mandates and church restrictions. They miss that Paul pointed out that the then ‘hesitants’ had a knowledge problem. They did not understand that idols or what we ate were of no significance in Christian theology.
Paul and Jeremiah do not teach that our conscience is an inviolable guide, always leading us correctly. Paul did not appeal to conscience in the Corinthians discussion but laid out reasons for his advice. Jeremiah describes our impulses as desperately wicked.
Why are we trying to figure out what good, right, sensible, and caring things to do? We would not argue that conscience is a reliable guide in many other instances.
We have speed limits on roads, and we do not tell people to drive at the speed your conscience tells you to. Conscience may not be the best argument for anyone’s moral behaviour. What (a vaccine) goes into us does not defile us; it is what emerges from our hearts.
Sacrificial love for others is more important than individual liberty. For Paul, the motivator is the building-up of the community in love, to care for others. If non-Christian neighbours see Christians as people for whom the rules do not apply or as people for whom the well-being of the wider community is irrelevant, their tolerance for Christian beliefs is likely to wane.
Christians are to be known by their expression of love, not their defiance. Our example from Jesus is a ‘laying down of life’ instead of fighting for rights, as promoted in 1 John 3: 16. (This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.)
Vaccines are not the only strategy. We cannot beat the coronavirus one booster at a time. We need to continue all we currently do: wash our hands, wear our masks and maintain social distance.
The country also needs to build systems and enact policies that protect the health of entire communities, especially the most vulnerable ones. The vaccines slow the infections and provide the necessary breathing space and funds to preserve and grow the economy.
In this area, the Church and our social media influencers should be champions, not hindrances.