Preparing for the worst, at this point, means recognizing and accepting the fact that the government and the private sector can do only so much in containing the spread of COVID-19 and saving people from it. No, this is not a defeatist nor a fatalistic stance. On the contrary, bracing now and doing what we can as individuals and as families, with what we have, is one way of improving our chances of physical and economic survival.
The fact is, most everything about COVID-19 is beyond our control, much like weather conditions and their consequences. But while we cannot stop typhoons, we can still prepare for them. Early warning is crucial in such a case. With COVID-19, however, we have already gone beyond early warning. We are now hitting 6,000 new cases daily. This should be warning enough for all that the “super typhoon” is already here.
As with typhoons, as it hits, we brace and wait it out. We cope, we adapt, and we work to overcome. With COVID-19, its dreaded virus brought a deadly respiratory illness to millions globally. We have resorted to a stricter quarantine yet again for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas, and the same is happening to other metropolitan centers all over. The world has been dealing with the threat of COVID-19 since late 2019, and it looks like the threat — and the onslaught — will remain for another six to 12 months.
But we cannot afford to continue to rely only on help or assistance that may come from either from the government or the private sector. To demand better accountability from the government is only right and proper. And to plead for help from the private sector is likewise understandable, especially from those who have more resources than others. But we should not forget that even in our own little way, we can also contribute to this fight.
I support the imposition of MECQ until Aug. 18, fully understanding its consequences on millions of people. I would have even accepted going back to ECQ, since the medical community will not publicly call for a timeout unless it was absolutely essential to the continued delivery of health services. And while the tradeoff for many of us is the temporary loss of livelihood, yet again, in their case, it is the distinct possibility of permanent loss of lives of doctors and nurses and their patients.
I believe the timeout to be difficult but necessary. In this fight, we have reached the point of “triage.” I am sure many will disagree with this assessment. And we can spend the whole day debating who is at fault and where the lapses were. But, even if we manage to assign blame, it doesn’t change the fact that things have gone from bad to worse, and we need to all start pitching in and doing our part as a people to survive this biggest medical emergency in our nation’s history.
Not everybody can be helped. Not everybody will get assistance. Not everybody will survive. And, prioritizing help can be corrupted. These are realities that we deal with daily. Those with power and money are more likely to get ahead of others. And those who are already disadvantaged are more likely to get disadvantaged even more. Donor fatigue will hit at some point, and we will eventually get to that part where there just isn’t enough to go around for everybody.
The fight today is against COVID-19. The fight tomorrow is against poverty and hunger. And we will all eventually compete for food and other resources as we will for hospital care and other social services. Public health service is already overwhelmed, and public education service is likewise compromised. One can only wonder when this pandemic will actually end, and if we can ever return to pre-COVID-19 ways. But there is no doubt in my mind that only in surviving COVID-19 today can we get the fighting chance to defeat poverty and hunger in the future.
Of course, people are differently situated. And MECQ now and future lockdowns will impact us differently. The first group is composed of those who are likely to survive, regardless of what level of care or help they receive from either the government or the private sector or both. They can fend for themselves. They can continue to work and function, earn an income, provide for their families, and thus are better positioned to keep themselves safe through proper health protocols such as washing, distancing, and using masks.
The second group is composed of those for whom immediate care and assistance can make a positive difference in outcome. They cannot fully fend for themselves, but it will not take too much to make them more independent and self-reliant. Resources will be required to make them stronger and capable. But they can make do even with little help or care, but whatever meager resources can be given them will go a long way in ensuring their survival.
And then there is the third group composed of those who are less likely to survive unless a significant level of care or help are given to them. If COVID-19 doesn’t get them, then hunger and poverty will. These people include the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged. The poorest of the poor. One infected person going home to his densely populated urban poor community can possibly, in a matter of weeks, wipe out his entire community that has little or no access to running water and proper medical services.
People in the first group do not need government assistance. They are fine where they are, and are best left to themselves. Those in the second group include middle-income families, who may not be as troubled as long as they are allowed to earn a living. At the very least, government support can come in the way of suitable and affordable modes of transportation during MECQ and after. As long as they can get to work safely, and without compromising the health of others, then they are okay. They need not be a burden on the state as long as they can work and be productive.
As for those in the third group, they will need all the support that can be given, from all those who can give it. Otherwise, these people will eventually account for most of the death toll as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc. Many of them have not received even the initial tranches of assistance extended by either the national government or the local governments. We should work doubly hard to identify these communities and particularly the sick among them.
For those in the first and second groups, we have to decide for ourselves where we can fit in all this, and how we can lend or show support for those who need it the most. Adhering to proper health protocols, and calling out those who do not, should be our priority. For those who need to work, please do so bearing in mind the heavy responsibility of making sure that protocols are followed by all, for the protection of all. The call for “Voluntary ECQ” is likewise commendable, and might work particularly for those in the first group. I believe it should be the default protocol for those who can do it until the pandemic is actually over. We do not have to wait for the government to tell us how to conduct ourselves by imposing ECQ again. Keeping ourselves in temporary seclusion is difficult, but it will go a long way in controlling the spread of disease.
The 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the “Spanish Flu” pandemic, reportedly ran from February 1918 to April 1920. Its “four waves” in over two years infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide — said to be about a third of the world’s population at the time. Its death toll was estimated at anywhere between 17 million and 50 million globally. It ended after two years not because of a vaccine, but only after the disease ran its course and those infected either died or developed immunity.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council