Is it safe? and Filipino bayanihan
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - June 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Is it safe? That is the question being asked by many as governments prepare to ease the lockdown. It is specially significant in the Philippines with it culture of togetherness. Bayanihan means that we live closely together as families, towns and cities. It is a double-edged sword in the face of a pandemic. We come together to help each other, but the very act of coming together is one cause of the spread of the disease now known as COVID-19.

Of the many lessons of Spanish flu of 1918, the most important was social distancing. But then it is in being together in groups and communities that we live and function whether to earn a living or give meaning to life. This is especially true of Filipinos. We are culturally disadvantaged to follow the rule of social distancing.

MISCELLANY: Veronica in London wrote this in her “From a Distance column” yesterday.

As the coronavirus has spread, Filipinos have rallied to help each other on the basis of our shared sense of belonging to the same nation. “Mahirap mag-isa at mangailangan ng tulong. Minsan di mo alam saan ka pupunta. Kung kailangan mo ng karamay tumawag ka at maaring si ate or si kuya ay naghihintay lang para sayo. Call 0xxxx0 xxxx000.” Support groups are being created and appealing to the Filipino concept of “bayanihan,” described on one website as “derived from the word “bayan” which means town. The bayanihan concept initially started when a man sought help from his neighbors to move, not only their belongings but their whole house.”

From my son in Singapore, secretary general of PECC:

“As we celebrate our independence day I was reminded of the many I spent as an overseas Filipino. Much has been done by many to improve the welfare of OFWs but I was heartbroken to read the story of Mariah Jocson, a 28-year-old seafarer, who died, apparently of suicide, while waiting for her repatriation flight. I share Secretary Locsin’s frustration that quarantine facilities are so inadequate that flights have had to be cancelled. Instead of politicians lauding OFWs as heroes of the country, it might go down better if we just made their lives a little bit easier and maybe treated them less like second class citizens. There must be an investigation into this – and please not a grandstanding inquiry to score political points, let’s just get to the root problem. If it’s a lack of staff, a lack of equipment, dedicated rooms or a lack of budget. These are things that can be fixed. We cannot get back this young lady’s life but we can learn our lesson.

According to the Financial Times there are some 400,000 seafarers stuck at sea or in ports unable to return because of the travel restrictions due to COVID-19. The same article says that this is a grave threat to global supply chains, 80 percent of the world’s trade is carried by sea, but now the people that make things work are tired, some haven’t been home for a year. Henriette Hallberg Thygesen, from Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company is quoted in the article as saying “There is an urgent need to establish safe corridors between key countries such as Philippines and India and key crew change hubs around the world. We need solutions and global collaboration now.”

This idea of safe corridors for seafarers is an urgent one to keep goods flowing around the world. Other countries are beginning to think of safe bubbles for opening up travel between them. New Zealand has zero new cases while Australia has just 18, I can imagine that the technical details are complex. No one will want to travel if they have to endure two weeks of quarantine on either of side of the trip.

Similarly in opening up a country to foreign visitors (not nationals or residents with a right of abode which is a different thing) how can you have confidence that they will not be a carrier? Someone might have a test before they leave, but does the country they are visiting recognize the results of that test?

This is not inconsequential for our country. The tourism and travel sector directly accounts for 6 percent of employment but indirectly it supports as much as 24 percent of jobs in the country. Similarly travel and tourism’s direct contribution to our GDP is about 8.7 percent, but indirectly it supports 21 percent of economic activity. The World Travel and Tourism Council has been working to achieve effective recovery protocols. These align the private sector behind common standards to ensure the safety of its workforce and travelers as the sector shifts to a new normal. They have developed protocols for: hospitality; outdoor retail; aviation; airports; cruise; tour operators; convention centers, meeting and events. Even as we are under quarantine I think we should be looking at these and building our own capacity to international best practices to ensure confidence in our sector once travel restarts.”

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