Lockdown anew

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

It’s like a bad version of déjà vu. Once again, Filipinos are being asked to stay home, only leave for essentials, and protect themselves more diligently against the transmission of COVID-19. It’s even been suggested to wear masks at home. At this point, I think that while we should all do our part and protect our health and our families, we also have to ask – is this band-aid solution actually going to make the kind of poignant impact that we need?

The most basic answer is no. Not unless these measures are coupled with changes in the country’s COVID-19 management programs and upticks in the proposed vaccination rollout. I think we all know, one year into the crisis that lockdown alone will not solve the problem. We need to think beyond the knee-jerk reaction if we really want to make a change.

Unfortunately, at this point, it’s too late to really conceptualize and implement other solutions. We need to go back indoors if we want to help alleviate the plight of our heroic healthcare workers who are getting overwhelmed once again. Healthcare facilities are filling up right and left and we’re already seeing “full capacity” signs for COVID patients in some of the metro’s biggest hospitals.

It’s a scary time to be out. While in an ideal world, we would do a two-week ECQ again, the reality is the country and the people simply can’t afford it. With Malacanang confirming that no ayudas will be given during this stricter two-week period, so many people and businesses can’t afford to shutter again like they did last March. Indeed, this lockdown, while it may feel similar, is really quite different from the one last year.

This time the stakes are higher and people have a lot less. Last March it was dire because we didn’t know what to expect. But at least some people had some rainy day funds saved up to be able to hunker down. Fast forward to one year later though and those funds have most likely been all but depleted. Business was terrible and so many SMEs suffered greatly last year. Many closed down. This new “lockdown” will only make things worse.

In fact, the government seems to be shying away from the term “lockdown” in general. It may be because we are already being called the country with one of the longest lockdowns in the world. And yet for all our quarantines and lockdowns and ECQs, GCQs, and MECQs, we find ourselves back to square one yet again.

Things need to change. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what needs to be done, but one thing’s for sure, we need to couple stay-at-home orders with more action. A more aggressive vaccine rollout program is integral to the fight, but we also need centralized contact tracing, better information dissemination to the masses, more efficient programs, and stricter adherence to protocols.

As many have said, despite all of this, it’s very likely that we won’t be able to beat COVID-19 completely. Even with vaccines and the much-coveted herd immunity, COVID is most likely here to stay, like the flu and other coronaviruses. But hopefully, we can improve our management so well that when localized surges occur they can be successfully contained without a full-blown outbreak.

This leads us to today and the first of two weeks of stricter GCQ measures. I hope that this GCQ, with additional restrictions for NCR+, makes the kind of dent the government and the healthcare facilities need. Because the numbers aren’t reflected in real-time, I’m sure we will still see cases in the 7,000 to 8,000 range in the coming days. I hope it doesn’t get any worse than that.

To those who can stay home, please do so and be careful. And to those who have to work, I hope you can find a way to do so safely and efficiently. Much like last year, we are entering these next two weeks with a lot of uncertainty. Hopefully, things are brighter on the other side.

* * *

This is going to be our second year in lockdown for Holy Week and once again churches are going to be shuttered, which means much of the Holy Week celebrations will be done virtually and online again. We were able to do it last year, and I think this year we are better prepared to observe religious traditions virtually than we did before.

Understandably for the devout and faithful Filipinos, it will be sad to be unable to go to church, but even before the travel bubble was announced, several dioceses in the metro had already said that they would put their churches on lockdown. Devotees can still observe and pray in their own way at home and with their families.

It’s not ideal, but none of this is ideal. Being apart and at home doesn’t have to mean Holy Week is any less poignant or that our celebration of the upcoming holy days won’t be as meaningful. If anything, our faith is more important now than ever before. Faith and hope for better days ahead are part of what’s keeping many Filipinos moving forward.

So let’s try to let faith and not fear guide our socially distanced and safe observance of Holy Week this year. And let’s pray that by next year, things will be better.

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