And we trudge forward

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

The word “trudge” is defined as to walk slowly with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions. I think it’s appropriate for how Filipinos are feeling these days in the face of continuously rising COVID cases, government inaction, and an unknown future. At least back in December, we were feeling a sliver of hope. These days it just seems like the endless unknown.

Perhaps the problem was feeling like we were finally making headway in the first place. Vaccines were announced last December and had begun to roll out in other countries. In the Philippines, we cautiously celebrated the holidays without a major surge and we began to feel that we may have gotten a “handle” on safety protocols and the pandemic.

But it was not the case. They always said the second surge was going to be worse than the first and I think we can agree with that now. Although technically this wouldn’t be considered a “second” surge as we haven’t gotten over the first one yet. I suppose it could be categorized as a “new wave” in the sense that new variants have contributed to the fast spread of infections now. Whatever the case, we’re in the thick of it now and we must slowly, but deliberately trudge forward.

As we move into MECQ, cases are still rising and hospitals are still full to overflowing. It’s scary to do even the simplest essential errands because anytime you step outdoors you worry that this could be the time you get the virus. On the flip side though, people who have been careful and remained indoors are starting to get it too. It’s a catch-22.

And while all of this is happening and impacting everyone’s lives – many are left wondering what the government’s plan is going to be. We can’t just have endless quarantines. This must be bolstered with other initiatives. Vaccine programs are moving at a snail’s pace and if we are only relying on that, we won’t reach herd immunity fast enough. More steps must be taken.

For example, contact tracing is all but gone these days. We still fill out the mandatory slips of paper or QR codes at most establishments like grocery stores or drug stores, but these are hardly ever utilized. Those in charge have admitted as much. We need to be more careful. And that goes both ways. People need to fill these up diligently and truthfully, and those in charge of contact tracing need to recommit fully and follow up.

It’s understandable that people have gotten tired and grew a bit lax over the last year. But now we have to recommit more than ever to follow all the safety protocols and getting vaccinated as soon as possible. This is also another uphill battle as many Filipinos are still understandably scared of vaccination.

It’s a very strange situation honestly. While so many are scared, there are also so many Filipinos looking to vaccines as the first step in the road to recovery. While this is good, it also leads to complacency and what some are calling the “Peltzman effect”. This is a theory which states that people tend to indulge in risky behavior when they feel security measures were taken. So if they feel they are protected, they might let their guard down. In this scenario – vaccines will both help stop and might help spread the virus.

But that shouldn’t be the case. If anything, safety protocols have to be stronger and we have to be more careful now than ever. This will require everyone’s buy-in and commitment to make it work. At this point, we have no choice. We need to help give our beleaguered healthcare system and essential workers a break. It’s a matter of life and death.

We also need to do better for ourselves. Too many of our countrymen are dying every day either from COVID or from lack of work and income. Those who have the luxury of working and earning from home have to do their part in helping those who don’t. We all need to work together to provide some sort of safety for the day wagers and workers who have no choice but to leave their homes to provide for their families.

We can no longer afford to “play it by ear” like we did last year. Even though it’s only been just over a year, we already know better.

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