Pandemic winners

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 25, 2020 - 12:00am

As in the other special occasions since mid-March this year, there will be no traditional Christmas party for our family today.

Instead my brother, his wife and two children will come over before noon, we will exchange gifts and food and take some photos, and then they will return home while I go to work.

Not quite a merry Christmas, but we’re grateful for little mercies and look for the bright spots in this horrid year.

Family bonding was boosted as people worked from home and children shifted to blended learning mode. The family that quarantines together stays together… we hope.

The lockdowns increased digital literacy, forcing people to migrate online for many activities. It is also widening the rich-poor gap, but in this article I will dwell on the bright side; the rest of the year it’s all bad news.

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It’s been a good year for providers of digital gadgets and services. People, myself included, have been forced to learn how to use Zoom, StreamYard and FaceTime. Netflix is a monster winner this year. Home deliveries, ordered online, saved mass transport drivers during the lockdowns.

E-commerce has boomed and is here to stay, but I’m still no convert. I believe the shopping malls will fully rebound; crowding and pollution will continue to drive people to the air-conditioned comfort of malls.

People, however, are rediscovering the delights of the outdoors, and property developers may want to factor this into their expansion plans. The preference for al fresco dining will likely be sustained beyond this pandemic, and it will put greater pressure for clean air and good landscaping in commercial areas.

It looks like biking is here to stay, with bicycle lanes now being installed all over Metro Manila and other areas. It’s good for the health and the environment.

To avoid going stir-crazy, people discovered the joys of gardening, cooking and baking. Hand-kneading bread dough can be particularly de-stressing.

Gardening suppliers are overjoyed; even with prices skyrocketing to ridiculous levels, plants are among the top gifts this Christmas. People are growing vegetables such as okra and tomatoes in small garden patches and even tin cans.

The coconut industry is among the beneficiaries of the pandemic, with the high demand for virgin coconut oil. It’s a labor-intensive sector so VCO, which scientific studies have confirmed to be effective as treatment for COVID-19, is also providing employment in the agriculture sector. Our officials should work for international recognition of the efficacy of VCO against coronaviruses.

Lagundi, found in scientific studies to be effective against cough, is also undergoing new tests as supplemental treatment for COVID. I have a potted lagundi now growing rapidly in a sunny spot in my garden; at least its price hasn’t gone through the roof… yet.

This is one upside of the pandemic: it has increased interest in local herbal treatments and encouraged greater funding for research and development. Let’s hope the interest will be sustained, backed by funding and all the necessary support. The Department of Science and Technology, for one, which is undertaking the COVID clinical trials for VCO, is moving to open a virology institute, with an initial funding of P284 million in the 2021 national budget.

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While COVID health safety protocols such as physical distancing have battered many industries, the threat of catching a highly infectious and deadly virus has also forced people to adopt more hygienic habits and healthier lifestyles.

Facilities for regular hand-washing with soap and water – a basic necessity for keeping out not only COVID but all pathogens – have been installed in many public places such as open markets.

Regular drinkers must be cutting down on their alcohol consumption. Drinking at home is rarely as much fun as hanging out with friends in bars and other watering holes.

With health experts warning that smokers and vapers have a higher risk of serious COVID infection since the coronavirus attacks the lungs in particular, there’s greater incentive for people to cut down on tobacco and e-cigarette consumption.

The pharmaceutical industry, needless to say, is winning big-time in this pestilence. Vitamins and food supplements – never mind if they have no approved therapeutic claims – are also winners.

We’ve become more health-conscious, as we keep being reminded that healthy people have stronger resistance to infection. People are engaging in physical exercise and yoga.

People are also recognizing the importance of mental health alongside physical health, as people try to keep their sanity intact amid job losses, business shutdowns, mobility restrictions, illness and death.

Faced with prolonged uncertainty, people are turning to prayer, and even non-believers may be finding religion. We can see this from the overflow crowds in churches, both for Simbang Gabi and the regular masses. While livelihood losses from the pandemic have meant lower contributions to the Catholic Church, the shepherds must be happy to see their flock thronging churches for spiritual solace in this crisis.

In this season, whose traditional cheer cannot be fully restored even with streets and houses again all lit up for the holidays, people are rediscovering the priceless things in life: good health, serenity, friendship and love.

Stay safe, and may you be filled with joy this Christmas!

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