Grounded planes & flying kisses: Life in the time of COVID-19
An almost empty departure hall of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on March 11 as visitor numbers have plummeted in the region over the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

Grounded planes & flying kisses: Life in the time of COVID-19

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2020 - 12:00am

March is not just Women’s Month, it is the month Filipinos stared the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-2019 in the eye and dared not blink.

It is the month cases in the Philippines spiked tenfold. As of Wednesday, there were 49 recorded cases of people who tested positive for the virus — up from a steady three since the first case was reported on Jan. 30.

Our grandparents remember the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific, our parents remember the day JFK died and we remember 9/11 and the day Princess Diana died. Now, even our children will remember 2020 as the year the coronavirus reared its ugly crown.

Classes were suspended in Metro Manila. Big events were cancelled. Offices underwent deep-cleaning. Used to beso-beso, the titas of Manila started blowing kisses to each other instead. Traffic jams migrated from the streets to the alleys of supermarkets, with shoppers overtaking each other for goods they think might run out. People went on a rampage for alcohol and hand sanitizers.

Shoppers buy rubbing alcohol in a supermarket in Quezon City as the Department of Health reports new CShoppers buy rubbing alcohol in a supermarket in Quezon City as the Department of Health reports new COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila. Photo by MICHAEL VARCASOVID-19 cases in Metro Manila.
Michael Varcas

“When the merchandiser brought new stocks of rubbing alcohol to the shelves, people surged towards her and the box was emptied before it reached the shelves,” said a bewildered shopper.

Toilet paper has suddenly becoming trendy, with people sweeping them off the shelves like they were of a limited edition. The last time I remember toilet paper running out was during the economic fallout that followed the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. There was debt repudiation and imports were curtailed, the peso’s value plummeted. In times of uncertainty, people reportedly do illogical things like hoard toilet paper. I think it is because of the inconvenience and consequence of being without it!

Masks here and abroad are virtually like a shopping memory — you remember them from the past but can’t find them on the shelves anymore in the here and now.

The coronavirus is proving to impact heavily on the lives not just of Filipinos but many citizens around the world. The travel industry is facing skies reportedly more turbulent than those after 9/11. Airlines have announced they were either asking their staff to go on forced leave or were letting go of them permanently. Cebu Pacific has announced its executives would take a pay cut.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are the figures as of March 10: there have been 113,702 cases worldwide (4,125 new). China registered the most number of cases with 80,924 confirmed (20 new) and 3,140 deaths. Outside of China, there are 32,778 confirmed cases (4,105 new), and 872 deaths (186 new) in 109 countries/territories.

Filipinas are worried the dashing Hyun Bin (Captain Ri of Crash Landing on You fame) might catch the virus instead of catching it from the sky.

But the comforting thought is that, according to NBC news in a story last March 6, the WHO reports about 80 percent of COVID-19 cases are mild. Most involve fever, cough and perhaps shortness of breath. “People with mild cases are expected to recover without issue, and some may not be aware they’re ever sick.”

Quoting the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the NBC report said “more than half of coronavirus patients worldwide have become better.”  Of the then 96,988 cases around the globe, 53,638 have recovered.


A virus has drastically changed lives like never before in the new millennium.

I don’t remember any country being under lockdown the way Italy is under lockdown now, or the Philippines suspending flights to China and parts of South Korea. I don’t remember any country banning travelers from the Philippines, like Kuwait and Qatar, among others, have now.

A friend who was in Paris this month found himself being turned down by Uber drivers because of his Chinese last name.

My family and I booked a trip to Spain nine months ago when Qatar Airways announced enticing fare deals. But with the number of COVID-19 cases rising there and here, and the prospect of being trapped in a lockdown the ways tourists in Bethlehem were in the event a person in one’s hotel or tour group tested positive for COVID-19, made us rethink our plans.

We had looked forward to this trip and just as it neared, it was temporarily snatched away from us by the virus. The COVID-19 outbreak hammered into me the reality that ultimately, we can make the most meticulous of plans but life is really not completely under our control.

Fortunately, Qatar Airways has waived rebooking charges for travel plans until June 30 (up to three days prior). Hopefully, it will also waive the fare difference between our old flight and the new one we’re going to take when this blows over. As Qatar Airways said in its advisory, “We’re in this together.”

Yes, life goes on, we pray it will go on, and yes, we’re all in this together.

The following are some practical guidelines issued by the HMO Medicard to its members:

10 things we can do to fight COVID-19

1. Clean your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand rub, or wash them with soap and water.

2. Clean surfaces regularly with disinfectant — for example,  kitchen benches and work desks.

3. Educate yourself about COVID-19. Make sure your information comes from reliable sources — your local or national public health agencies, the World Health Organization, or local health professional.

4. Avoid traveling if you have fever or cough, and if you become such while on a flight, inform the crew immediately.

5. If you cough or sneeze, do it into your sleeve, or use a tissue. Dispose of the tissue immediately into a closed rubbish bin, and then clean your hands.

6. If you are over 60 years old, or if you have an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, a respiratory condition or diabetes, you have a higher risk of developing severe disease. Take extra precautions by avoiding crowded areas.

7. If you feel unwell, stay at home and call your doctor.

8. If you are sick, stay at home, and eat and sleep separately from your family. Use different utensils and cutlery to eat.

9. If you develop shortness of breath, seek care immediately.

10. Discuss how to stay safe with your workplace, school or place of worship. *

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