Sleeping with the enemy

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What happened last week? In one fell swoop, the government relaxed a series of mobility restrictions. The move was seen pushing the economy along a long road to recovery. On the other hand, naysayers are worried that such a move might result in worsening the already precarious number of infections, especially in the metropolis. Although our numbers are going down, the country is still posting high infection rates. This can worsen anytime, negating whatever gains made in the past months.   Indeed, the balancing act of saving the economy against saving lives is a difficult one. The question is, do we honestly have a choice? If this is the bitter pill we need to swallow, we do what we need to do. But we should not come out worse than where we are right now.

Among the new measures were the new distance provisions between passengers on public transport. From the former “one-meter” apart rule imposed on mostly road-based vehicles as well as rail transport, this has been modified to making passengers occupy a seat apart. Earlier last week, the LTFRB announced the resumption of additional provincial routes to and from Metro Manila, as well as the operations of additional jeepney routes, a thorny issue just a few months ago. Meanwhile, travel age restrictions were also relaxed to 15 to 65 years old. Moreover, a few local tourist destinations are now being allowed to accept select groups of visitors, but still with a strict entry protocol. And just before the weekend, visitors from Luzon, including Metro Manila, will now be allowed to enter Baguio City. Lastly, non-essential outbound travel overseas was finally being resumed; definitely good news for our overseas Filipino workers who needed to resume their employment.

Behind all these is the push for economic activity to spur recovery. The country has been hard hit in this pandemic with almost half of the working population losing their jobs. Meanwhile, government resources are nearing depletion with foreign borrowing going to pandemic expenses more than for development spending. But this situation is not confined to the Philippines alone. The draining of fiscal resources in many countries is also pushing them to open up their economies. Moreover, countries have to commonly deal with a weary populace locked down in social isolation these past months. Talks of a vaccine just around the corner also encouraged people to believe that things will soon normalize.

Understandable then is the move of the government to normalize and provide the avenues for the public to move on their own road to recovery. The virus cannot cure hunger. Besides, in all these moves to normalcy, government health protocols are strictly being required. Even in the new relaxed schemes, transport authorities emphasized the adherence to the so-called “7 commandments” of transport sanitation, which is basically a summation of    personal safety protocols. And tourist destinations like Baguio City still require strict entry protocols.

But the real worry is that the populace will take this whole seemingly relaxed scenario as a coming-out event and take it the wrong way. Human as we are, we have the capability to convince ourselves what we want to believe. More and more, people are crawling out of their forced hibernation and carelessly mingling with one another—and the virus. It does not help that a senior health official casually mentions that we are possibly nearing herd immunity. Nice to hear that, and good to believe. But that’s far from the truth. The virus is still there. People still die and get sick. Decisions to live blindly to the danger that exists or live with the virus are ours to make, not the government’s. Opening up avenues of normalcy does not mean everything is back to normal. At the end of the day, we are on our own. Though we hope for that day that the light of normalcy shines once more, we need to remember that the virus remains. We are still sleeping with the enemy.

Thomas “Tim” Orbos was formerly with the DOTr and the MMDA. He has completed his graduate studies at the McCourt School of Public Policy of Georgetown University and is an alumnus of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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