From my window (Part 4)

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Anticipating a lockdown, I went on a self-quarantine on March 12, the day after I had arrived from a 3-day trip to Sulu. The next day, Friday the 13th, I accompanied a friend to the mall where he asked a telco store to transfer his old files to the new phone he bought from the shop. Then, we had dinner in one restaurant in the mall. That made my uninterrupted quarantine then begin from that night after I went home.

I am on my 6th week of quarantine and I never even attempted to step out of the house. We have a family representative who does the marketing and groceries for us. Lucky me that I do not have to leave the house because I am a senior and supposed to be especially vulnerable to Covid19. Since I have been keeping track of the Wuhan virus from January, I have been wired to the epidemic turned pandemic for three months now.

The spread of the Wuhan virus was unprecedented, making its transmissibility its first powerful trait. But its other early trait, the total impact of which remains suspect up to today, was its virulence, its killing power. I do not believe that the world will ever know just how many died in Wuhan and nearby cities in January and February of 2020. I can infer, though, that from the Wuhan lockdown of January 23 and the rapid subsequent lockdowns in the province of Hubei and other cities, virtually paralyzing more than 50 million people, the contamination and kill rate panicked the Chinese authorities. The suppression of news and social media freedom simply exposed how drastically China wanted to hide the gory details.

If it had seemed that only China would have been affected, I would have monitored developments mostly from curiosity. However, since January, it was obvious that a runaway virus was going to find its way to other countries, and most especially to the Philippines. After all, Chinese tourists and POGO employees were littering the Philippine landscape and especially Metro Manila. The delayed reaction of China against early containment allowed Chinse residents and their foreign visitors to spread the virus worldwide. It was only a matter of time that what I would read about in the news would determine the way we live in our own country.

I have dedicated seven straight articles on the Wuhan virus that morphed its name to novel coronavirus (NCov) and now Covid19, from being a flu I heard about in January to an epidemic in February to a pandemic in March. This article will continue to focus on the same subject matter. Why? Because nothing is more life-changing, not just for me, but for the Filipino people and the world. That is worth paying focused attention to, worth looking for lessons to learn, and most of all, finding our way to discovering what will be the new normal way of life. That means more articles beyond this, not just from me but most everybody else, one way or the other.

Yes, the infection and death rates, or their potential to contaminate and kill, are drawing the priority efforts to cope by most nations. It has been a great collective health struggle with all kinds of systems and human creativity being brought to bear against a simple virus. Some prospects of cure and preventive vaccines are promising but too little, too late for the tens of thousands killed, and too ineffective yet to be reassuring for our present and near future. But the damage was done and the damage still happening has been so massive that so many nations have started to cooperate at a level hereto unknown. The United Nations could not have done a better job than Covid19.

A few countries have dared to give the impression that they have controlled the situation. First, it is just an impression. Or, it is more to raise optimism among their respective peoples and economies. But they are all running unsure, if not still fearful, at possible new outbreaks. Most other nations, though, like the Philippines, are on a wait-and-see footing, waiting to see how much infections are still happening, how many people are still dying, and how long before the economy collapses, and social disorder begins to threaten. And everybody is praying for a vaccine which experts are saying will not be available soon, not in 2020 anyway.

I know some people are unable to even at this point to be non-partisan, and I guess that partisan virus is harder to kill than Covid19. I can only pray that the National Government and LGUs can mostly rise above partisan sentiments to 1) feed those threatened by hunger, and 2) maintain a reasonable calm when answers are not yet available. Most of all, though, I appeal to the Filipino people to give enough time each day to reflect on what is happening and why it is so disruptive to our lives. It is not only political partisanship that we must set aside but, apparently, the non-essentials that we had elevated to the level of necessity when they are not.

Today, it is being pounded on us that our first requirement is food, and this is a requirement that we can address because there is food (thank goodness). Because the supply of food is adequate, it is more a matter of making it available where the need is. Again, where the need is, not where the money is. I had to repeat that because this requirement of matching food with people is so radically different from what we allowed ourselves to get used to – matching food with money as the norm. Because we cannot get rid of the need for money so deeply inculcated in our value system, I must then suggest that we put money in second or third place.

I know that the government and business are both in a hurry to go back to normal. The economy and income for the people are primordial in their understanding. And because of that, they eventually will risk opening business-as-usual and accept the risk as well of new infections and more deaths. But I would like to remind them what I know they are also realizing to varying degrees – the old normal is gone forever and the new normal is waiting to be built.

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