What is at the end of the lockdown tunnel?

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak - The Philippine Star

As we enter Holy Week 2020, I think I can say with absolute certainty that everyone is entering the holy days with far more introspection than usual. And while having time to think and be quiet is not necessarily a bad thing – especially during this poignant time in our religious calendar – the reason we are like this isn’t exactly an uplifting one.

Today we learned that President Duterte has approved the extension of the enhanced community quarantine until at least April 30. While this is not surprising, it still raises some important questions too. What measures will be taken to ensure people can survive until then? Are we any closer to finding out what is going to happen to ensure the curve is effectively flattened? And the biggest question – will there be anything to go back to once this is all said and done?

I don’t think anyone expected the lockdown to end by April 14. After all, there was still no clear picture of how to end the pandemic. No vaccine has been fully tested, no treatments are 100 percent effective yet. Lifting the quarantine would have just given everyone two or three days in the sunlight before the virus would spike and we would all be sent home once again.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that hearing about the extension undoubtedly crushed millions of Filipinos who had barely held on during the initial quarantine and have effectively depleted their savings barely getting by the past 20 days. Knowing that they will not be able to go back to work (if they are lucky enough to still have work), or even find a new job is a huge blow. Supplies are running low and hunger is looking like an even bigger enemy than the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 to many of our countrymen.

Now with this going on longer, the threat isn’t just to the lowest income households, but also  to the middle class and entrepreneurs as well. While many were able to hang on for the first month, seeing that there is no end in sight is quite disheartening. We have to remember that many of the small business owners are also “no work, no pay” employees. If their businesses can’t earn – and many can’t during this terrible time – they have no income as well.

During the first half of the quarantine, several SME owners tried to do their part to help others. They paid their employees as much as possible despite no work – some gave out prorated 13th month. They squeezed their resources as much as possible to help those who are part of their enterprises and even those who aren’t like frontliners, the urban poor and others.

However, now that they are looking at another two weeks and possibly longer of no work and no means to reopen their businesses, what is going to happen to the middle class precariously set on the edge of the cliff? What will happen to those who work in the live events industry – the artists, the producers, the wedding planners? At this point, we are a proverbial house of cards that is bound to collapse at any moment. What will happen once people can no longer donate or help because they can’t even provide for their own needs? Are social unrest and riots far behind? I hope not.

Our government needs to think beyond the quarantine. If this isolation were a bitter pill, I think everyone would swallow it without complaint knowing that healing and safety were on the other side. But that is not the case here. We are on quarantine, but there is no real movement outside about virus containment, mass testing, treatment, and vaccine. It honestly sometimes feels like we are staying at home for nothing. If these other facets are not addressed soon and comprehensively, all the quarantine in the world isn’t going to do any good.

We hear news daily about new cases of COVID-19. We see the death toll rise and we hear about recoveries too. The news we rarely see is what is being done to truly understand, contain, and control the virus. Are we any closer to a vaccine? Are any of these new protocols providing insight and direction for what is going to happen beyond April 30?

Extensions will mean nothing if the outcome beyond the enhanced community quarantine lockdown remains the same. Without a means to fully curb the virus, will we forever be stuck six feet apart from one another? This may seem like a small concern, but it is going to impact life, business, and the economy in a big way beyond the lockdown.

I truly hope those we have entrusted with our health and with our lives are doing more than just asking us to stay indoors and hoping for the best. We need real measures and plans if we are going to find a way to survive this. Vaccine development is the biggest step, of course, but while that is going on and out of our hands, then we need to focus on what we can do – find ways to help those in need, create a concrete economic stimulus plan, help businesses so they can help their people, create a solid and reliable distribution of relief goods, and constantly reassure the public that this, too, will come to an end.

We are battening down the hatches even further this Holy Week and preparing for the weeks ahead. As we reflect on the sacrifices Jesus has made for us in the coming days, may it strengthen our souls and our minds that these sacrifices we are going through are only temporary.

I remember the touching message Pope Francis shared in his Palm Sunday homily – God will never leave us alone. Especially in times of trouble. May we hold on to that as comfort during these hard days ahead.


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