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Two days into the re-imposition of the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine status in Metro Manila, one cannot help but wonder how we had no other choice but to go back into this lockdown quagmire.

If officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases were to be believed, the National Capital Region was on its way to getting back into a semblance of normalcy. This despite the increasing number of confirmed new COVID-19 cases, at one point more than 5,000 nationwide with 2,737 of them coming from the NCR.

The IATF’s brave moves to restart our economy were necessary. There is no question about that. Since May 16th, businesses were allowed to re-open in phases and with that, more and more people became mobile. From bicycles to motorcycles, as well as private and public transportation, the resurgence of travel was a welcome development for an economy just about to plunge into a recession.

The automotive industry was slowly regaining its momentum too. Sales promotions and discounts, virtual marketing launches, and after-sales services were already making a comeback to ensure the viability of the industry. Everything was on track for a slow but deliberate recovery. Until the reality of a raging pandemic reared its ugly head yet again.

Over the weekend, Metro Manila’s valiant front-liners called for a timeout to slow down the spread of the virus. They also asked for a review of the strategies and policies being employed by the government in addressing the pandemic. Perhaps it is also a loud and resounding call for sobriety and introspection not only to our policy makers, but also to us – the motorists, commuters, cyclists, riders, drivers, passengers and even to those who walk hours a day to and from work.

Mobility is a necessary component in the proper functioning of any economy and society. People need to move around to get to work, to accomplish errands, to deliver goods. People need to meet people, talk and laugh with others, feel their presence. Unfortunately, mobility is also what a virus needs to propagate itself.

The movement of people has also seen the spread of COVID-19. With the resumption of public transportation, commuters have become either unwilling victims or silent spreaders of the virus. Dr. Rodrigo Ong of the UP OCTA-Research Team, a think tank of professionals and academics monitoring the country’s COVID-19 data for use in analyzing the speed of transmission using the R naught model, believes our recent mobility has contributed to the quick spread of the COVID-19 virus. “The virus doesn’t have legs and needs a “vehicle” to move,” says Dr. Ong. “It uses people and animals to transfer from one place to another. It infects people through droplet and fomite transmission. So sneezing, coughing and touching contaminated surfaces are the current known routes of infection.”

The lax implementation of health protocols, the slow and laborious methods of contact tracing, and even our own blatant disregard for social distancing orders have made the daily commute a breeding ground for infection. Dr. Ong explains, “Public transportation, whilst having some control measures for social distancing, does carry risk in that people inside come and go without disinfecting the seat of barriers every time they enter and alight.” He adds, “The virus can survive in these surfaces for several hours and can be picked up by the next passenger and brought home.”

And this scenario applies the same for private vehicles. Despite having a lower risk for infection, owner-driven cars or ones used solely by the family still need to be disinfected every now and then especially when passengers are allowed to ride in them.

Admittedly, despite our best personal efforts to wear masks, face shields or even PPEs, many of us have been lax in following published health mandates. And worse, we have taken the expanded freedom of mobility these past two months to drive around like everything was normal when we should have been at home.

We met up with friends. We drove to attend reunions. We set-up face-to-face meetings. We went to the mall and ate in enclosed restaurants. We hung out with the gang. We crowded queues. We packed buses. We attended rallies. We even sneaked in leisure travel outside the capital just to feel the air and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately, for some, this is how they got infected. 

Because of our own doing, we not only put ourselves at risk, but also our families and friends as well. Because of our own selfishness, we have become part of the problem.

Many countries have exercised extreme caution and relied on scientific data to curb the spread of this virus. Their governments held back on reopening their economies to ensure that the proper safety and health protocols are in place first. They made sure that people understood their role and participation to achieve the country’s goals. We, however, were more cavalier. And in doing so, we are now paying the price.

With the NCR back in MECQ, may we now learn not to take our freedoms for granted again. We were given a taste of liberty in movement the last two months. We loved it. We welcomed it. After three months in ECQ isolation, we finally had the chance to see the outside world again. But if we do not become responsible citizens of this country, if we do not learn to cooperate with each other whatever our political, religious, or personal beliefs and leanings are, we may not be able to enjoy these freedoms again anytime soon.

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