Survival of the fittest?
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - May 20, 2020 - 12:00am

After the initial shock of the first lockdown began to settle, the more pressing questions started – how do we ensure our leaders make the most of the time we were all forced to spend indoors? What should the government focus on to help us moving forward? What was the new normal going to be like? And most importantly – where do we go from here?

Everyone had ideas. We all thought about what it was going to be after the lockdown was eventually lifted. Honestly, I admit that we all hoped it would be sooner rather than later. But we also wanted to make sure that when that day eventually came it would be safe to do so. Otherwise, all that time spent in quarantine would have quickly been for nothing.

Well, that day has somewhat come. As we shift from enhanced community quarantine to the modified community quarantine we are already beginning to see Filipinos rushing headfirst into what they perceive to be their “new normal”. It’s understandable that the government is concerned about the economy and is trying to take steps to help reinvigorate it. After all, it that has taken such a bad beating these past few months. We have to stop at ask ourselves though – we are trying to revive businesses, but at what cost?

We need to ask ourselves what is most important right now? In the past few weeks, we focused on fighting the spread of the virus, but now we are rushing back to reopen the country without having really controlled anything. If that’s the case, what was it all for? Everyone is concerned about triggering the second wave of infections, but that can’t really happen if we never stopped the first wave. We still have multiple cases every day, and our fatality rate hasn’t drastically improved. With things being the way they are, was it really a good time to modify the quarantine?

I think one of the main problems with implementing a modified quarantine is that people weren’t properly briefed about this next phase. It seems that many people think that life is going back to normal. It was my understanding that in the modified quarantine, most people (unless they are essential workers) are still asked to stay home. Work from home is still recommended as much as possible and whenever possible. A few more stores and industries are allowed to reopen to help them slowly begin offering services again.

That all sounded well and good. However what happened over the weekend and what has continued to happen these past few days does not bode well for the days to come. On Saturday, the first day of the modified quarantine and the first day that several malls were allowed to reopen in limited capacity, people came out in droves. Perhaps they misunderstood the new guidelines because there were tons of people flocking to the malls, several in groups, and definitely not all for essential requirements.

And with crowds like these, safety guidelines could very well be rendered useless. Even with the new protocols in place – masks and disinfectant tents and so much more – the sheer volume of people out and within arm’s length of each other will definitely create a bad breeding ground for the virus to spread. We’ve all seen it in simulations. All it takes is for one asymptomatic person to be careless for one second for the virus to be out there in the air infecting others. And we’ve all seen how careless a lot of Filipinos can be. Several keep removing their masks, touching their faces, touching surfaces, and so much more.

So with so many people rushing back out onto the streets, what does this mean for all of us collectively? It could potentially mean that the past 60+ days we’ve spent in quarantine will be for nothing. Even those in the government have been quoted as saying that they are expecting a rapid spike in cases in the coming days. If that’s true, then why even rush into this next phase at all? What good is trying to restart the economy if our health systems are going to quickly be overwhelmed? Wasn’t that what we were trying to avoid in the first place?

It’s difficult. There is no right answer because we have never had to do this before. No one in the world has, so we are basically groping in the dark trying to find the way forward. However, it is important that we strategize and create a plan that is carefully disseminated to everyone so that they understand what it means. Perhaps if people were made to understand, they would not have  rushed out of their houses by the car-full to get to the malls.

We have to remember that in the battle against COVID-19, until there is a vaccine or treatment, it’s essentially a marathon and not a sprint. We can’t expect to have stayed home for a couple of months and the problem would fix itself. Without mass testing and proper isolation, we can’t even get an accurate gauge of the virus in the country. We are only working with approximate numbers, which I believe, are wildly off the mark. I think if we truly began mass testing, our numbers would be much higher.

At the end of the day, the government has  its work cut out for them, unless they want to see an uncontrollable surge in cases and deaths in the coming weeks. This shouldn’t be something they just leave to the private sector. All of the planning and slow reopening of the economy will have been for nothing if people get sick again and hospitals unable to accommodate them. It’s going to turn into survival of the fittest out there, or the Hunger Games, and that’s the last thing we want to happen.

So for those that are able to, stay home. Work from home and don’t add to the growing crowds gathering outside. We’re all at different places and I definitely understand the need to earn a living, especially for those less fortunate and even for small business owners. But we all have to work together to do this, lest we all fall again. This time the situation could become even worse, and we won’t have the resources to bail ourselves out again.

I can only hope everyone outside stays safe. Follow the guidelines to the letter because they are there to help you, not to inconvenience you. I know how difficult it can be to wear a mask for long periods of time, but if you need to be out among the crowds it’s something that needs to be done. Refrain from touching your faces, wash your hands regularly, and employ proper social distancing methods. Without adhering to these steps this quarantine is going to be short lived and we’re going to end up right back where we started.

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