The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has wrought sweeping, horrible havoc all over the globe. No nation on the face of the earth remains unscathed by it physically, socially, economically, religiously, and, if I may add, spiritually. Nobody stays free from the hardship, fear, and uncertainty which the flagrant virus brings in its wake. Not an individual escapes from being locked down in one way or another.
‘Lockdown’ is a common term for all types of anti-COVID quarantine. Be it general community quarantine (GCQ), modified (MGCQ), enhanced (ECQ), or extreme (ExECQ) or total lockdown. The type, degree, and manner of lockdown simply depends on Who or What is locked in or locked out and the circumstances – Why, How, Where, or When – that surround it.
To avert and control the rapid contagion of COVID, governments and health departments worldwide mandate physical distancing. We call it ‘social distancing’ yet this is neither ‘social’ nor even ‘asocial’. It is actually anti-social. How can we call segregating oneself almost as “I against the world” something social? How can we tag as social such physical distancing which forbids a friendly handshake, a simple ‘beso-beso’, a familial hug, a filial visit to an aging parent, an unintended ‘invasion’ of personal space and the like?
In the City of Love, a loving spouse is prohibited to ride a motorbike in tandem with a dear husband or wife. The couple is even required to wear face masks when riding in a four-wheel private vehicle, closed or open, regardless of the presumed intimacy they share together in the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of their home.
Everybody is looking forward to ‘degrading down’ to a lower risk area (LRA) status which we brand as ‘new normal’. Look, who are we kidding? This may be just a ‘new abnormal.’ What with us people wearing face masks in various designs and colors like perennial hoodlums; sporting newly acquired ‘victorian’, keep distant habits; riding in PUVs with plastic curtains and one-seat-apart arrangement; attending video call or virtual conferences in lieu of face-to-face meetings; dining out in restos together yet each one seated at a ‘lonely table just for one’; hearing Holy Mass only over the radio, TV, cellphone, or other gadgets. How novel yet how abnormal!
Not only the physical surroundings look ghostly, arid, and abandoned. It’s the nation’s economy that suffers more than ever. Most business establishments close and incur severe losses. Markets of goods and services are extremely diminished. Job opportunities are reduced to the barest in basic industries while unemployment inversely shots up. Financial transactions slow down and banking hours are cut short. People’s purchasing power weakens. Such litany could go on and on ‘ad nauseam’.
Good for wealthy countries, succor for their constituents comes handy and quick as a financial stimulus to tide them over harsh, hard-up times and cushion the adverse effect on the economy. But for already challenged economies like ours, the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) turns out into a nightmare that saps the state’s coffer and is allegedly saddled by bureaucratic ineptness, injustice, and corrupt practices’.
My younger brother Angelo, an engineer-consultant in Bangladesh, who arrived home just recently, told us vivid, horrible stories of being locked down in isolation. He was quarantined for seventy-one dragging, solitary days in his host country, five days in Ascot Hotel in Metro Manila, ten days in Goldberry Hotel in this city, and finally five days in the municipal OFW and LSI holding facility of Zarraga.
All in all, he spent 91 days on his long, winding journey home, and underwent a total of four CoViD tests which all turned out ‘negative’ results. Thankful for having hurdled such a depressing, prolonged ordeal, Nono (as we fondly call him), recalled how more terrified and fearful he was of not surviving COVID than the civil war he experienced in Algeria many years before.
More lately, two breaking news related to the pandemic hit the local scene. One bannered the headline: “Iloilo St. Paul Hospital Locked Down: Six Resident Doctors Tested COVID Positive.” The other scoop shouted out: “13 Health Frontliners in Alimodian Town Are COVID Positive.” And very recently, the Pedro Gindap Municipal Hospital – a government hospital in Barbaza, Antique – also closed its door to serving the public because one of its physicians also caught the ubiquitous virus. These developments almost stalled my finishing this article for I was personally stunned how close the pandemic could get to us since we have next of kin and close friends working in those two medical institutions and the main office of a countryside bank that I’m still engaged with as a director is located in Alimodian.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing scenarios, several questions come to mind: Are we locked down for better or for worse? Are we, so to speak, ’going to the dogs’? Is our situation vis-a-vis the COVID-19 pandemic getting worse or better? From ECQ status in mid-March, we upgraded to GCQ in May and improved to MGCQ in June. That looks great for both the city and province of Iloilo. We have a pro-active, quick-to-the-draw Mayor of Iloilo City as well as a dynamic, highly promising Governor of Iloilo Province, who are both on top of the situation of their respective turf. Yet our COVID positive cases are still increasing day by day. Where do we go wrong and why are we at the brink of going back to ECQ status in July?
Do we have a holistic and unified strategic plan to address COVID? So far, none specific and transparent. What we have are high officials of the land seemingly obsessed about passing a dubious anti-terrorism bill and de-franchising a broadcast network for old grudges; blurting out expletives and criticizing local officials for embarking on down-to-earth initiatives in the face of a staggering pandemic; pontificating about a ‘balik probinsya’ program without preempting its impact on accelerating the inter-island spread of viral contagion.
Do we have adequate legislation to address the present and clear danger of CoViD devastation? Yes, we have Republic Act No. 11469 otherwise known as the ‘Bayanihan to Heal as One Law’, yet this delves more into the declaration of the existence of a national emergency arising from CoViD-19 and granting authority to the Chief Executive of the land to exercise special powers necessary to respond to the pandemic, focusing on the budget and funding purposes. If there are pertinent Implementing rules and regulations, they deal only with Section 4(aa) of the Act and cover merely some banking and financing concerns.
As of this writing, Congress has endorsed the extension of the President’s emergency powers to fight CoViD-19 until September 2020 and funding a financial package to resuscitate the pandemic-ravaged economy despite the clamors from some sectors for the need of first explaining for the sake of transparency and accountability where the previous budget of P275 billion went before another gargantuan budget be approved which could lead to national treasury deficit and burgeoning foreign debts.
How come complaints reverberate here and there from needy people who have not benefited from the high-finance government relief assistance and social amelioration schemes? For this deeply aggrieved and depressed sector of our society, it’s no work, no pay, no pension, no SAP! Perhaps, the Bayanihan Act Part 2 would do them much better.
One Cabinet member has the guts to say that we are making significant strides in our fight against CoViD-19. In the July 3, 2020 issue of The Philippine Star, the Honorable Secretary was quoted as saying: ”Are we winning the battle against CoViD-19 despite the increasing CoViD cases? Yes, of course. We can see we are able to manage, especially the number of deaths. But if you look at the positivity rate, we are now at six percent…probably up to seven. Our goal is to bring down the positivity rate to three percent and even one percent. Due to the lockdown imposed by the government as early as March 15, we are able to buy time to improve our testing capacities, build isolation and healthcare facilities.”
The good Secretary’s statement, like a ‘voice in the wilderness’, may fall on deaf ears yet, at these moments of pervading crises amidst the COVID-19 pandemonium and panic, it bespeaks a welcome development. Timely, well-enforced lockdown could result in much-desired results.
Fresh from a dip with the dolphins, the government’s Chief PIO said that the country has indeed improved in addressing the pandemic compared to a few months ago. The gradual resumption of businesses and the revival of the economy, he noted, are being done with a reminder for everyone to abide by the minimum health standards requirement. He said: “As long as we follow the minimum health standards and strengthen safety initiatives, we can bring down COVID-19 cases.”
Believe it or not? And this brings us back to our starting question. Let’s end with our beginning in mind.
Are we locked down for better or for worse? Easier asked than answered. Your reply could be better than mine. Only the passage of time would tell. Let’s hope and pray that COVID-19 would linger amongst us only for just a little while. Not automatically but with the utmost discipline and sheer determination, risk management and control, strategic planning and constant monitoring, concerted efforts and unified actions on our part — both private and government sectors alike.