Life as we know it has changed so much, and so suddenly.
The Luzon-wide enhance community quarantine is ending its second week. Since it was first imposed, we have made many adjustments to the way we live, work, and relate with others, even the way we ponder our mortality.
Restriction of movement has been the government’s main means of slowing the spread of the virus. Many have committed to abide by these limits, with two exceptions: Those who must keep going out to earn a living notwithstanding the risks of infection, and those who believe they are above the law and can flout it as they please.
The problem is not unique to the Philippines. All around us, countries are grappling with the dreaded disease; even those with supposedly advanced healthcare systems find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients needing medical attention.
Reading the news brings information, yes, but also anxiety. This is complicated by the proliferation of materials that may or may not be false.
Restaurants and malls are closed, and if one does have to go out to get essential supplies, one should be prepared to stand in line and not find all the items one set out to buy. There is no public transportation, such that only those with vehicles can go out; others have no choice but to walk even if they must go out.
We tell ourselves we cannot get sick, COVID-19 or not, or meet an accident, because hospitals have become high-risk places.
In all this, we all pine for the days before the disease caused us to worry for ourselves and for others. We wonder how long this “pause” will last, and how soon we can go back to our usual ways, even the things we took for granted.
Even the President of the United States engages in delusional thinking and believes it would be safe for people to go out as before by Easter.
But even White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says we cannot give this crisis a timeline. The virus will determine the timeline.
The timeline is fluid because it will depend on how governments and societies respond to it. After first taking the threat lightly, government leaders are now scrambling to cope with it—some more successfully than others. Each society has its own capabilities and priorities, and in a few weeks and months we will see which of these will have paid off. We hope that at this crucial point, leaders could be humble enough to recognize and adopt others’ best practices even if these were not their idea.
The truth is, we have permanently said goodbye to those pre-coronavirus days. There will be—there must be—no return to “normal.” What were commonplace before were recklessness and neglect. We were riding a high that made us feel invincible. We were too busy with our own affairs forgetting what was important. We took other people—health care workers, supermarket clerks, security guards, delivery people—for granted. We basked in our privilege and did not stop to think how others managed to eke out a living.
Now more than ever, we are aware of how our national and local leaders are behaving in response to the pandemic. In the previous normal, we chalked up their arrogance, selfishness—even stupidity—as normal behavior for politicians. We didn’t think our votes would make a difference. Now that we have seen how their decisions can mean life and death for others, we have to keep being vigilant and outspoken—not only when we have the time because we are working from home.
This will be a long pause, but we hope one that gives us clarity in the days ahead. May this heightened awareness, empathy, and purpose be our normal, henceforth.