We had it coming.
A year ago, the country went into lockdown as the number of detected COVID-19 cases began to increase. The nation plunged into paranoia as it tried to understand how the virus was transmitted. At that time, the mobility of people was the prime suspect. And that was why businesses, commercial establishments, airports, seaports, bus terminals, public transportation and everything else that had people coming to and from, were shut down.
By the third week of March last year, a moving 4-week average of about 1,376 new cases was tallied. And yet, the government saw it prudent to close down the economy and impose draconian measures to curb the spread of the disease. Mobility was effectively curtailed with policies such as the issuing of barangay permits for persons authorized to leave their houses, limiting travel to only the essentials, and the restriction of people from entering and leaving Metro Manila.
The people hunkered down, and began to cooperate with the government. We rallied together under the “flatten the curve” battle cry. We even showed extra compassion for frontliners who had to deal with the sick despite their lack of personal protective equipment and rest.
As the government slowly dealt with the realization that the country’s economy could not take any more lockdown measures last June, it began opening malls, access to public transportation, air and sea travel and provincial borders. Just recently, it relaxed travel requirements to provinces in the hope of spurring trade and commercial movement. This despite the increasing number of infections in the past month.
A year on however, the country is now seeing a surge of about 7,000 reported new cases a day with Metro Manila again getting the brunt of infections. As of last Sunday 14.8% of those tested nationally come back with COVID-19 positive results. This is the highest positivity rate since August last year. Which begs the question, why are we not in lockdown again?
Despite the worrying case counts, we now see increased capacity in public transport. Buses and jeepneys filled to capacity in clear violation of the government’s health protocols. The recent video of how haphazardly sanitation and disinfection procedures are done at the MRT-3 sums it all up, we are not ready to return to normal, and we never have been.
But it is not just the government that has been remiss of its duties. Despite high-ranking officials flouting the health protocols they are sworn to promote and defend, it is ultimately us, the people, who have allowed this surge to happen again.
The truth is, if these public transportation health protocols were religiously observed by the people, the number of COVID-19 infections would have been lessening, if not holding at a low and manageable level by now. Other countries even aspire to zero out their new case reports. Here, one year after the lockdown began, we are still nowhere near doing either. Though if we were to believe the government, we have flattened the curve at one point… but to about 2,000 new cases a day. Somehow though, I don’t think this was what the trending hashtag meant.
In Brunei for example, a small country with the population of Makati on a non-work day, the government has recorded zero community transmission for 322 days as of today. Its health ministry opted to exercise caution for an extended period of time as businesses did not open until months after the government was sure that it had control of the virus’s spread. And by control, it meant zero new cases.
For a few months, the mosques were not allowed to have congregations. Restaurants were only allowed to have take-out and delivery services, no dine-ins. Theaters and gyms were closed. Malls and businesses were on the brink of shutting down altogether, and some did. And until now, its borders remain closed. But the people and the government worked hand in hand to face their common enemy. Moreover, health officials heeded the call of science. That is why, for almost a year now, its people have been enjoying mask-less mobility, a sense of normality, and most importantly a sense of security and safety. It is perhaps the only country in ASEAN to experience a positive growth in total car sales for 2020. Go figure that.
The health policies were not that different to the Philippines’. Face masks at the onset, regular sanitizing of hands whenever one entered an establishment. Limited capacity gatherings. But Brunei did develop a singular national health app that functions as a self-reporting tool and a contact tracing service. And to this day, even despite the zero cases, people are still mandated to use the app whenever they enter any building, commercial establishment, or government office.
Unlike Brunei and most of our neighbors though, our country is still attempting to rein in the virus a year into this pandemic. With 5,000 new cases a day beginning two weekends ago and a shocking 8,019 just this last Monday, clearly we have not been successful. However it is not just the government that has failed miserably here, we too, the people, have not done our part. We use face masks to cover our chins instead of our noses. Our face shields have become visor caps instead of protective coverings to our face and eyes. We sit in crowded buses and jeepneys despite knowing it is against the government’s directives. We let our children run out on the streets without any protection even though they should be staying indoors. And ultimately, we complain about every little aspect of control as if our freedoms were in any more danger than our health.
We mock the government on social media for sloppily doing its job instead of rallying each other to work hand in hand to comply with health protocols. We feel we are brighter, smarter, and more capable to do what is necessary to halt the spread of the virus. And yet we ourselves are the first to go to large gatherings, party on weekends, hang out with friends and acquaintances as if the virus were non-existent.
One year ago, life and everything we accepted as normal vanished into our memories. Streets were blocked off by local barangay officials. Cars went missing on the roads. People were not allowed to go out of their houses unless for essential travel. We lined up outside of groceries waiting for our turn to enter and shop for necessities. Malls, stores and businesses were shuttered. Restaurants had limited take-out operating hours, no dine-ins. We had food delivered to our homes, if we had the money to pay for them at all. We waited for dole outs of canned goods and rice from our barangays. The people’s mobility was effectively neutered.
While we cannot afford to do this again, we also cannot afford an impending health catastrophe that will surely rear its ugly head if we do not act now. Ignore the people in government if you hate their faces that much. But please do not set aside science and medical experts’ advice. Stop thinking only about yourself and start doing what needs to be done for the greater good of all. Wear your masks. Put on those face shields. Stay away from crowds and gatherings. Ghost those eyeballs and hangouts. If ever there is one time this country, and by that I mean both the government and its people, needs to get its act together, it is now.
The light at the end of the tunnel is near. The vaccines have shown promise. Let science, not unfounded conspiracy theories, pride and political meandering be our guide. The ball is in our hands this time. For the sake of our loved ones, let us not drop it again.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.