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It’s high time that frontliners are given a respite from the major financial burdens and allow them to enjoy the little comforts in life like owning a vehicle

Four months into the government-imposed lockdowns to control the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the country, we are still faced with rising number of coronavirus cases and a seemingly losing battle against the unseen enemy.

Just a few months ago, our healthcare system was barely coping with the influx of severe and critical COVID-19 cases. Those in charge of ensuring our health and securing our towns and cities, people we collectively call frontliners, were staring squarely in the eye of danger each passing day they do their jobs. Medical doctors, nurses, medical technicians, midwives, pharmacists, radiologic technologists, police, soldiers, firefighters, bank employees, barangay personnel, health workers, delivery riders, even security guards and garbage collectors were among the most exposed to the growing menace.

Sadly, despite the various permutations of Community Quarantine exercises, we seem to be back to square one as the sudden spike in cases is once again filling up hospitals and quarantine facilities. Certainly, the danger has not gone away, unlike what we have seen in our ASEAN neighbors who have successfully controlled their own outbreaks. At this point, the economy’s recovery has become the new priority of our government as more and more businesses open and workers once again move about to earn a living and provide for their families.

Here lies the problem, though. As more people step out of their homes, commute to work, go to markets, eat in restaurants, and walk around malls, we are also seeing an increase in the reported daily infection rates. Dr. Butch Ong, a 20-year Sports Medicine, Pain and Rehabilitation Medicine practitioner with his own clinic, says the number of new cases has increased dramatically in the last few weeks. “In part this is due to the daily commute of the people as the transportation sector is being allowed to operate. In part also is the exposure at the place of work or offices. More people are exposed to potentially asymptomatic COVID positive individuals,” adds Dr. Ong.

Even with a small percentage of this number ending up in hospitals, many of which have already declared no vacancies for COVID-19 patients, our frontliners are once again faced with a heightened risk of exposure to the virus. As in March, these gallant men and women of various professions continue to report to work and serve a public that is somehow increasingly becoming callous to their plight.

With public transportation becoming a possible venue of viral spread, personal mobility is now a real consideration for many of our frontliners. E-scooters, bicycles, motorcycles and now even cars are seriously being considered for the social distancing from possible COVID-19 carriers they can afford. Of these choices, cars offer the most comfort and protection from the elements.

“Since I’m an essential frontline worker, I still use my own car to go to the clinics,” shares Dr. Ong. He adds, “As a car owner I am able to sanitize the interior with appropriate disinfectants to assure that it is free from any contagion.” And there lies the great advantage of frontliners who are fortunate enough to own and use a car to commute to their place of work.

Patrick Chua, an engineer who has been in-charge of shuttling essential workers to and from their homes to the factory since late March, believes cars are easier to disinfect after every trip. “I use a spray bottle with disinfecting solution and wipe it off the non-absorbent surfaces. This way, I can be more assured of our common safety,” explains Chua. He adds, “The advantage of cars is that they can accommodate more passengers for each trip compared to motorcycles. Cars also provide better protection from road hazards while offering a more relaxed trip going home despite the traffic.”

Unfortunately, the hefty price tag of cars versus other more affordable modes of personal transportation is a major hindrance in its adoption as the new normal for the daily commute. Whether brand-new or pre-owned, cars are still viewed as a major investment requiring secure finances. Dr. Ong again expounds, “Even at the medical centers, we are operating at only 30-40% capacity. Many doctors are opening just to see their clinically ill patients, or patients in pain. Many are operating clinics at a loss.” Surely conditions that are far from ideal as people cope with today’s uncertain times.

Furthermore, with various jobs on the brink of being lost due to fears of the virus and reduced consumer confidence, and with a major recession looming, banks have been cautious in approving loans to car buyers. Car company executives are saying that some banks are now even requiring income figures of up to six times the monthly amortization to have a chance of being approved a loan. It does not help that due to lost sales over the first half of the year, automotive industry numbers are down by 52% from last year’s figures according to industry reports.

Fortunately, most local car brands have been offering significant discounts, special offers and unique services catered to frontliners and their immediate families. Whether they are in the guise of marketing incentives to move stocks  or a genuine concern for the well-being of the people who ensure our health and the continued functioning of our society, these incentives are a welcome opportunity for the hardworking and tireless frontliners to be able to ensure their own personal safety and comfort during this pandemic. It can only be hoped that financial institutions will likewise see the opportunity to give back to these essential workers despite the trying times.

Given their ongoing efforts to keep healthcare systems and the country’s economic wheels turning, it is high time that frontliners are given a respite from the major financial burdens preventing them from enjoying the little comforts in life. Purchasing a car not only for themselves, but also for their families who will reap the benefits of four-wheeled mobility in the future once COVID-19 has been put in check, will surely be a welcome reward for their efforts in saving the lives of our loved ones and keeping our economy afloat.

With what they have done in the last five months for our nation, frontliners truly deserve a hard-earned break. Supporting them and ensuring their safety should be the common goal for the various industries and sectors of our society. 

“We heal as one” must be more than just a slogan. It should be our common goal as we strive to recover together from this life-changing moment in our nation’s history.