Waiting in vein

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - January 17, 2021 - 12:00am

In a park the size of a city block, a gaggle of maids gather around every morning. They bring sandwiches, some rice, bottles of cola, and perhaps, some freshly-baked bread. Some tag along their charges, pups in leashes, or babes in carriages. As they gather round the breakfast fare, it’s usual to see them chattering and laughing. It must be a welcome start to the rest of their regimented day. Often, they bring extra food, to be shared with the friendly security guards tasked with patrolling the posh condominium that faces the park.

Some of the maids wear face masks, but instead of securely protecting their noses and mouths, these masks are pulled down to their chins. Some maids come equipped with face shields, but these are pulled up to serve as headbands. In most cases, there’s no physical distancing to speak of, as the chitchat is absorbing, and who would want to miss every detail of the latest gossip?

Sweating by a side street, a Caucasian woman grunts and sweats as she hits the leather vest and belt worn by her Filipino Muay Thai trainer. Beside her, a stocky Chinese (Taiwanese?) man belts out a barrage of fists as he focuses on the waiting gloves of his own local instructor. The expats have no masks or shields as they huff and puff - their Pinoy torturers, enjoying a higher hourly rate than the usual gym trainers, bear the brunt of their physical force and also their invisible exhalations.

Close by, a park security guard leans against the chain link fence, absorbed in his mobile phone. Sometimes, he looks up, scans the rest of the joggers for possible mask-rule violators, but pays no mind to the boxing students grunting just near him.

In a posh residence situated in an exclusive village where only the old rich or the politically rapacious live, a party is in full swing. Women are in designer dresses, and men flash their multi-million peso watches du jour.

There are approximately 50 or so guests - certainly far more than the 10-person max allowed by current rules. It’s the merry-making expected from a legislator of the republic, where not only are they in practice exempt from lockdown restrictions, why, they may even have sufficient immunity from the virus itself (see, all the guests took coronavirus tests before the party. That makes them so much safer - and totally exempt from the 10-man rule).

Meanwhile, stranded travelers and countrymen fly home for the holidays. Upon arrival, they are escorted to quarantine hotels to serve out the mandatory waiting periods. Families check into shared rooms (of course) to await their PCR tests. As soon as the test results come out negative, perhaps in a couple of days if they are unlucky, they are permitted to exit their quarantine prisons, ready to be reunited with waiting families.

Except that in some cases, one person from a family of four may come out positive, while the rest test negative. That person who drew the unlucky stick is made to stay in isolation. The rest, even after sharing quarantine quarters and close proximity with the COVID-positive relative, are allowed to leave, and mix and mingle with the rest of the populace.

So many ways to damn the rest of the country to the pandemic. No matter the control measures, no matter the plenitude of information on avoiding infection that have blanketed the country for many months, we end up with this leak here and that breach there, a new infection by that island, an uncontrolled outbreak over at the capital. A national disaster, all around.

Is it due to a collective inability to appreciate risk? Or something ingrained in the Filipino nature that disregards authority, or restrictions, or even common sense? Or, as some theorize, the sheer exhaustion at having to comply with so many rules?

It makes one want to jump to the head of the line for the vaccine, pleading to be pricked with that magic immunity shot. With the rest of the country discarding safety measures, it seems that the only way to protect oneself, aside from establishing hermetically sealed islands, is to be vaccinated. That, or continue praying for the country to come to its collective senses.

Achieving herd immunity by injecting the vaccine into our collective veins seems to be the way forward. Or at least, that’s what we meek citizens are being shepherded to conclude.

We are so screwed.

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