Lent and lockdown
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 5, 2020 - 12:00am

Amidst this global coronavirus pandemic, many of us have forgotten this is also the season of Lent. Just as a reminder: Lent is the 40-day period starting on Ash Wednesday and ending on Easter Sunday. The Christians use Lent as a preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord.

Lent is a time of prayer, doing penance mortifying the flesh, repentance of sin, almsgiving and self denial. Traditionally, I remember even during my grade school days that we were supposed to give up something we like to eat or do during this period. Many Christians also give up certain luxuries and add a Lenten spiritual discipline such as reading a daily devotional prayer or praying the Stations of the Cross which commemorate Christ’s carrying of the Cross and His execution at Calvary.

Aside from fasting, there is an emphasis on spiritual observations like attending mass, making the Stations of the Cross, doing a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, taking time for personal prayer and spiritual reading , and making a good confession. The focus is supposed to be the repentance of our sins, renewal of faith and to celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ and the salvation of humankind.

There is no question that the observation of Lent as a period of sacrifice has increasingly been replaced by the celebration of Lent as time for holidays and other celebrations. Holy Week was the period when resorts were fully booked and even urban hotels were full of staycationers.

This Lenten period is undoubtedly the first time almost every Filipino had to make personal sacrifices and forego certain luxuries. The fact that coronavirus has been observed to make no distinction between rich and poor has made almost everyone, rich and poor, more spiritual.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Resurrection. This feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowd scattered palm branches in front of Christ as he rode into the city. Today, in most churches, the day is commemorated by the blessing of palm branches brought by parishioners. In places where palms are not available, substitution of palm with other varieties of trees is allowed. Another common custom during Lent was almsgiving or other works of charity.

Because of the lockdown during the pandemic, households are consciously or unconsciously religiously observing the season of Lent. I would assume that this coming Holy Week will be the first where holiday resorts will be virtually empty.

By the way, I have been wondering whether it is pure coincidence that this pandemic is happening during the season of Lent.

Public health vs. economic health

There is an ongoing public debate on whether or not to lift the present lockdown or to extend it for another two weeks. A partial lifting of the lockdown seems difficult to implement at this point. How partial will it be? If only some barangays will be quarantined, how do you identify the barangays since there has been no testing at the barangay level? If there is partial lifting, how do we prevent the resurgence or even the spread of the virus from the quarantined barangay to the non-quarantined? How can persons from non-quarantined barangays go to work if their workplaces are in quarantined barangays and vice versa? Will this not cause social unrest? If in a partial lifting, checkpoints are removed, how do you prevent people in lockdown barangays from going to work if they see other people resuming normal lives? 

During this period of lockdown, the government was supposed to prepare for the lifting of the lockdown. This meant there was sufficient testing to identify on local level potential carriers without waiting for them to go to hospitals before they become PUI or PUM. I think most people will agree that the data on reported cases and deaths does not present the actual situation.

I believe that the position of the Management Association of the Philippines as articulated by its president, Francis Lim, provides a reasonable framework before even the partial lifting of the lockdown. Here are excerpts from his report.

• Rushing to judgment may backfire and be more costly to the economy and to public health. Consult first those who understand this virus in scientific and medical terms before making a decision to partially lift the lockdown.

• FDA approval of locally available testing kits should be accelerated.

• Before partially lifting the ECQ, let’s get the health care system better prepared – respirators, hospital beds, medical staff, etc. –  in case there is recurrence in the event that we lift. We should learn from lessons of other countries.

• It is essential that we take aggressive steps to protect our medical health workers – arm them with whatever they need – PPEs, etc. There appears to be a developing risk aversion among our healthcare workers and this is not good.

• In the event of a lifting, a delicate balancing act is needed. Non-essential areas where there is high risk of community transmission should remain closed.

• A stimulus package for MSMEs and businesses that will find themselves in financial distress should be seriously considered.

In addition, if the lockdown is extended, government should listen to the plea of food importers who want the problem of road blocks solved to allow them to bring out their cargo. “If importers cannot bring out their containers, this will be a disaster.”

Personally, I believe that the lockdown should be extended for another two weeks to give government more time to prepare aligned with the MAP framework. Hopefully we will be prepared to survive a lifting of the lockdown.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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