Round 2

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

“Keeping distance in the market, Manila” | Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons by ILO/Minette Rimando

Not only are we in March, but we are in March 2.0 in Covid times. I would have wanted to say that we have come full circle from March 2020, but we are not yet, because the circle is still moving, not closing. It does feel in so many ways that we are at the beginning of the pandemic one year ago with, or despite, so many dramatic and life-changing lessons. It is a bad place to be, but that is where we are.

In March 2020, we started to go into fear. In March 2021, we are in fear again, but amply mixed with desperation. In between have been over 630,000 confirmed infections, almost 13,000 deaths, a new surge of infections, millions unemployed because of Covid, and over 110,000 businesses closed. Therefore, the fear and the desperation for March 2021 moving forward.

Can we ever count the asymptomatic cases, all carriers who do not know they are until their victims get symptoms and are tested? When we were on strict lockdown, our ignorance about COVID-19 caused the spread despite the orders to remain inside our homes. But after several months, cases did slow down, and tentative, partial openings of movement, including select businesses, were allowed. In that struggle to control infections and sustain our health systems, hundreds of billions of pesos or Ayuda, under Bayanihan I and Bayanihan II, were released by the government.

It did seem for a while that the worst was over. Infection cases did slow down to just a hundred per day from several thousand before that. The global conversation focused not only on the ongoing economic destruction but also the furious drive to develop vaccines. In record time, vaccine development that usually took a few years witnessed record-breaking speeds. Today, several are already on approved emergency use, and billions are in production.

“In March 2020, we started to go into fear. In March 2021, we are in fear again, but amply mixed with desperation. In between have been over 630,000 confirmed infections, almost 13,000 deaths, a new surge of infections, millions unemployed because of Covid, and over 110,000 businesses closed.”

While all these were happening in the last twelve months, beyond the infections and deaths with their attendant suffering came massive surges in poverty and hunger incidences. Lockdowns meant no work, no business, no income, no school, all of which necessarily meant no socializing, no face-to-face interaction outside of our houses. This experience moved us from fear of death and the unknown to desperation because of the known.

It was natural that we wanted to re-open as much as we could, mobility, businesses, work, and even recreation. The government allowed what it must have thought to be at a gradual yet safe pace. People are back at work, physically, but some have no more work to return to. Travel returned when public transportation was allowed. I believe that the government must have anticipated that all the re-openings would increase infections again but hoped that these would be more controlled this time. Businesses, too, instituted protocols to keep the workspace and operations protected.

I wish, of course, that some terrible things that tainted our one-year experience with Covid had not happened, but they did, and they worsened the fear and desperation. We had the PhilHealth fiasco, the controversial closure of ABS-CBN, the Anti-Terror Law, public officials’ assassinations, the intensified conflict between the government and the communist rebels, and, of course, a continuing drug war with so many unexplained killings.

“But in these moments of extreme difficulty at a collective level, nationally and globally, we learned the greatest lessons. They continue to be taught today, and our learning them would greatly ease what we will experience in the next twelve months.”

It has been a harrowing twelve months. But in these moments of extreme difficulty at a collective level, nationally and globally, we learned the greatest lessons. They continue to be taught today, and our learning them would greatly ease what we will experience in the next twelve months. Some are already learned, of course. We value relationships more today after being separated made us realize that they are precious. The more fortunate who had time to be with their families, all the while rediscovered their intimacy.

Business went viral, so to speak because most had to go virtual. These new ways of doing business online stimulate a kind of creativity that will further spark more innovation down the line. However, communities have learned how connected they are and how infection of one person, one family, affects the whole neighborhood. It is an opportune time to bring community interaction to new cooperative levels, and I hope community leaders will initiate collective activities.

Even the terrible spike of hunger that afflicted millions of low-income families drew a strong response from fellow Filipinos. Sympathy had its own spike, too, and even the typhoons that hit us late last year served to open hearts and pockets despite the negative impact of a weakened economy. Adversity does come with healthy teachings, too. We are being taught to care for one another instead of deteriorating to a dog-eat-dog reaction. Covid has been effective that way – the poor and the rich can infect each other regardless of economic or social status.

“How much we have learned so far will dictate how fast we need to catch up with what we did not learn yet. This rollercoaster ride is a long and wild one. Hold on tightly and scour your soul for inner peace because there will be little or none outside.”

In other words, we are in this together. This is not an easy lesson to learn, not after our whole remembered and recorded history has so distinctively defined what makes us different through rank and wealth. It is especially challenging for those with great superiority in position and money to lessen their advantage, just as it is as challenging for the more unfortunate to struggle harder to become productive. Even the financial giants will feel deeply affected by their standards. They will have to rise above the traditional sense of entitlement to a sense of the collective, of being one with all.

One year, March 2020 to March 2021, made us go through a catharsis. It is far from over, but the beginning sets the color and pace of things to come. How much we have learned so far will dictate how fast we need to catch up with what we did not learn yet. This rollercoaster ride is a long and wild one. Hold on tightly and scour your soul for inner peace because there will be little or none outside.

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