"The unseen enemy has not yet been defeated. We just cannot afford a longer lockdown."
Metro Manila and other areas shift today to general community quarantine, not because it is already safe for us to venture out, but because the effects of the lockdown have been so crushing for the economy, for industries and businesses, and for people’s livelihood that we have to take the calculated risk of opening up – or suffer a beating, not from a virus, but from economic collapse.
We thus greet this new phase in the fight against COVID-19 with hope on one hand, and trepidation on the other.
We are hopeful because after two and a half months of only bare essentials, up to 50 percent of economic activity will be resumed. This means that for those who have been forced to stay at home without the ability to earn while under quarantine, a semblance of dignity and productivity will return. They will no longer have to rely on assistance from the government which, while it came in cash or kind, did not really assuage their fears that there would be enough to go on in the coming days.
We are hopeful because after two and a half months of reading grim news about the coronavirus, we have presumably built good habits like washing our hands, practicing social distancing, avoiding crowds, and evaluating every action – like stepping out of the house – as essential or risky.
Unfortunately, we have more reasons to be anxious about today.
Foremost, we do not have a clear picture of the extent of infections. Just last week, the Department of Health revised its reporting format, confounding the public even more as it drew distinctions on cases confirmed on a single day and those from more than several days before. We are told that the current number of coronavirus infections – more than 17,000 – is understated as there are thousands still not included in the official tally. Last week, too, we saw single-highest surge in the number of new cases, even as there are subsequent explanations about why this is so.
But the Health Department insists that we are already controlling the outbreak because of the slower doubling time and lower mortality rate. The number of “fresh” cases reported per day is supposedly low, and there is a “low critical care utilization rate.”
We are swimming – no, drowning – in vague terms, and on really bad days our officials tend to change definitions. It is anything but comforting.
And because the evidence is unreliable, we quake over the decisions being made from this data.
We are also worried about how the millions expected to go back to work today could bring themselves from Point A to Point B. Those who own vehicles will have no problem except perhaps heavy traffic. Those who rely on public transportation should allot even longer hours for their commute.
The actions of some of our leaders who play God with the lives of people and selectively apply safety protocols and the rule of law hardly inspire confidence. Those who milk this tragedy for their own political gain make us retch.
Finally, with all these, we are deathly afraid of a scenario where more Filipinos will contract the dreaded disease, and our health care system will not be able to respond to this.
Then again, there is no stopping our opening up today because the alternative – remaining on lockdown indefinitely – appears more destructive. As we venture out today or in succeeding days, may we remember that it is not yet safe out there, and that this unseen enemy has not yet been defeated.