Commentary

Pandemic fatigue is becoming
more real than I thought

If not for me then for friends who feel like climbing up the wall

De La Salle-College of St. Benilde third year digital film student Lem Atienza spearheaded an art project called "Galaw Galaw" to urge the people and the government to move. (All artworks published in You.com.ph)

We didn’t expect the pandemic to end this year, one year from the start of lockdown, but we at least expected to see the light—even if only a glimmer of it—at the end of the tunnel. However, instead, what we’re seeing are campaign videos/posters of possible administration candidates for the 2022 presidential elections. That sucks—really adding insult to injury. How you wish those funds were used instead to mount a widespread information campaign on vaccines so that people would not fall for subliterate fallacies, or were spent on testing for those who can’t afford it, on sustained contract tracing and more Covid treatment facilities to augment a maxed-out health system—instead of propagating the faces (nothing more to share beyond the faces) of presidential wannabes.

A proactive management of the pandemic would have included a widespread information campaign on the emergency or immediate home care that the mild Covid cases can adopt in the event that they can no longer be admitted in hospitals operating in full capacity.

But then the Filipino’s forbearance is both legendary and unmatched in today’s civilization. He’d rather be sad and dejected than angry and confrontational; he’d joke about his misery during the day, then pray at night. How we hope that we fortify that prayer, at least, by registering to vote and later on, guarding our vote. That is how to make democracy work.

What do we have to show after a year of having reputedly the longest lockdown in the world? The Filipino has a lot to show and be proud of, starting with the medical front-liner.  But our government could have done a lot better, given the financial aid at its disposal.

Artwork by Jheco Lorica from Far Eastern University

For a people who never wore masks in our lives, we didn’t do bad complying with protocols, but more than that, we did all the “pivots” we could. Locked down submissively in 2020, we cooked, baked and sold goodies from the house to supplement incomes lost. Indeed, we tried all sorts of money-making ventures, including growing and selling plants, just to keep body and soul together. We worked from home and tried our darn best to cross over to digital, even if we’re not a techie people and even if we have an incomparably weak technology infrastructure in the region. Online art auctions even ruled the day.

There were many among my friends who, even if they were not that affluent, gave to those who have less

There were many among my friends who, even if they were not that affluent, gave to those who have less, especially to those who lost their jobs; the past year saw Filipinos pitching in so that their hungry countrymen could have food on the table. Our need was that basic in 2020. And poverty had a name—the waiting staff, the ballboys, the salon hairdresser in your midst.

The Filipino performing and theater artists were robbed of their performances in this pandemic, and to many of them, performing on the digital platform isn’t quite the same as forging a physical connection to the audience. It was Philippine ballet that pivoted bravely to the digital platform where it continued its workshops and performances. Filipino fashion designers went on doing what they do best— clothes and accessories— and expanded to making masks, PPE, homewear, and overnight, tried to survive on online selling. Among the hardest hit sectors, apart from the hospitality and travel industries, was the entertainment and culture industry—the creatives industry that could have continued to thrive like its counterpart in Korea, if only decades ago, the government paid heed to the appeal of this sector to recognize this industry as a revenue stream and help it go global, after the Philippines gave world productions such as Miss Saigon their lead performers.

A doctor friend said that, to our generation that has never been through a world war, the pandemic is the equivalent of World War III. Amid it, the Filipino lived up to what statesman Carlos P. Romulo wrote more than half a century ago—that the Filipino could be as pliant as the bamboo. But the pandemic also again reminded one of Manuel Quezon’s famous quote—“I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.”

Artwork by Ikatlo Olis from Technological University of the Philippines

While there was no template that could have guided, to the letter, any country on how to curb this pandemic, still the government could have managed it better with greater transparency, by getting its act together, by transcending any political agenda. Never have the LGUs been given as much latitude as today—which isn’t really a bad thing—but there could have been proactive, tighter coordination to avoid bureaucratic red tape that cost the poor money (barangay clearance, LGU clearance, etc), to make testing affordable to all,  or to avoid confusion about the levels of quarantine. We hope for efficient, encompassing and  relentless testing and contact tracing procedures, and our wish—a nationwide, egalitarian vaccine roll-out.

‘The management of COVID is about science, not politics’

I can’t agree more with a corporate executive friend who said, “The management of COVID is about science, not politics. We wish our leaders would listen more to scientists, epidemiologists or public health experts.”

Another doctor friend observed how the people must have reached some level of pandemic fatigue: “Laxity and complacency—I see seniors fraternizing at meals. There’s that misguided thinking that as long as one is wearing a mask, ok. Pinoys are very poor at social distancing. Plus the pandemic fatigue, people just must go out and dine out, saying they follow health protocols anyway. I beg to disagree. The moment you put down your mask to eat, health protocols have left the building. That, plus the opening of the economy and the entry of variants, really would result in spikes.”

Of course, it doesn’t help that a few top officials break the rules now and then.

Lockdown fatigue inevitably sets in simply because people can’t stay locked down indefinitely. Some call out the “expats” (pardon the tagging) who hang out, especially in BGC, sans masks because they consider wearing masks an infringement on their rights. Fact is, people inevitably have to go out, if not to socialize, at least to make a living. My son is in sales and his job entails doing the rounds—at night I need to pray to stave off paranoia.

Photography by Lem Atienza from De La Salle-College of St. Benilde featuring Joshua Enciso, a soloist from Ballet Manila

The long, intermittent lockdown can drive people up the wall. Cabin fever is becoming more real than I thought, with some friends suffering from it. Anxiety that comes with nightmares is real. They have to hop into their cars, drive around even only in the village just to escape the four walls of their home and cover some distance; just walking blocks isn’t enough for them.

The past year we confronted twin fears—fear of the virus and fear of the outside world. A year after lockdown, we still do. The government has yet to make the populace feel secure and confident about the community enough to resume productive lives, the way it is in other countries in the region that have opened up their economies or didn’t lock them down in the first place such as Korea, Japan, Taiwan. Perhaps it is, in fact, still not safe. Far from it, the hospitals are again reaching their maximum limit with the number of cases continuing to rise.

The government behaves like a policeman (all brawn) but a bad manager unable to plan, implement, lead

The government behaves like a policeman (all brawn) but a bad manager unable to plan, implement, lead (trapos jumping the line isn’t the way to lead). Beyond its militaristic approach to the pandemic (checkpoints, quarantines whose levels use up the alphabet), you wonder how the government—national and LGUs—is pursuing and sustaining the test-contact trace-quarantine-treat approach to the pandemic which has proven to be effective in most countries. In opening up the economy, didn’t it expect people to go out, gather and interact, work? If it did, then why wasn’t it proactive enough? One wished that given the support from the private sector and financial aid, it could have been more thorough and proactive as the pandemic enters its second year.

It looks like life as we knew it will not be back in 2021. Not yet. You hope for an information campaign, down to the grassroots level, to address the people’s fears about the vaccine. Believe it or not, I came across in a chat group, a yarn about a vaccine “conspiracy”  that aims to debilitate, if not eliminate, the old people in society, like in that vintage movie Soylent Green.

People, in general, are hoping to be vaccinated, and they’re anxious about how the roll-out would be—if it will be egalitarian, or stuck in the who-you-know, “palakasan” level. It didn’t help that the vaccine roll-out started on the wrong foot, mired in controversy and allegations of corruption.

At least, the business and the rest of the private sector are working with the government and taking an active role in the vaccine roll-out. On that depends how soon the economy can bounce back, and how soon we can resume working and living.

2021, like 2020, is still about survival. We hope that this time we approach it with learnings from 2020—and move on from collective self-pity.

Artwork by Lorenz Rigonan from the University of the Philippines Diliman

About author

Articles

After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.
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