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We reach out to several individuals in the medical and business fields to get an idea as to how lockdowns are perceived and affecting us today

Many things have changed since the National Capital Region was placed under lockdown on 15 March. On 1 June, things eased up under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) which saw the return of dining-in, the majority of the workforce, retail shops, and more. Now that we’re back under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) — due to the continued rise of COVID-19 cases (137,000+ as of writing) — we talk to several friends to get their take on how things are unfolding. 

The return to MECQ sprung from a call-to-action from medical professionals across the country. In the hopes of recalibrating the current strategy against the virus, health workers sought the aid of President Duterte himself, who heeded their plea declaring Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, and Bulacan under MECQ from 04 to 18 August.

We reached out to Dr Jan Borbe, a resident at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and 2019 medical boards top-notcher. He notes of the recent declaration, “At this point, our healthcare system is at a stone’s throw away from collapsing. If we don’t do something to stop the rapid increase in numbers, we might not be able to hold this any further. I agree that we need stricter quarantine measures to decrease the transmission of the virus. But then again, we shouldn’t look at this as the sole solution to the problem. Having a lockdown without a plan is pretty much useless; we would [go] back to square one after the lockdown. This is only a temporary measure to give us time to think of a new strategy similar to a timeout in a basketball game.” 

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This notion is echoed by long-time restaurateur Elbert Cuenca, “We completely understand the reason behind the reverting to MECQ, but I feel that a blanket measure to control the spread of the virus is the wrong approach. [Instead], the approach should be surgical. Identify the hotspots and the case contributors and focus on controlling the spread there.” One of the heaviest hit sectors during this time is the food and beverage industry. With numerous establishments closing (whether temporarily or for good), we are all hard-pressed to see how it can all bounce back. “The dining scene will surely return one day, but not anytime soon. For as long as offices are closed, foreign travel restrictions, controls such as curfews, seniors and minors being disallowed, and a ban on public consumption of alcoholic beverages are in place, we have no business to speak of,” Elbert shares his two cents on the matter.

[The MECQ] is only a temporary measure to give us time to think of a new strategy similar to a timeout in a basketball game
Dr Jan Borbe

The sudden revert to stricter lockdowns may have come as a surprise to many but perhaps not for the medical community who have been waiting for better aid amidst the unfolding health crisis. As of mid-July, there have been several reports of hospitals in Metro Manila nearing full-capacity; cases continued to exponentially increase on the daily. “As much as we want to provide compassionate care and medical assistance to all our patients… we are unable to respond to some COVID-19 patients due to the limited workforce and the hospital’s declaration of full capacity,” shares Dr Martha Muńoz, OB-GYN resident at the Makati Medical Center. “We had one asymptomatic mother who tested positive after giving birth. The baby was likewise tested and the results turned out to be positive. It was really heartbreaking,” she adds. 

Dr Jan recounts his own personal experience, “There are so many things happening in [hospitals] that people don’t see on the news or social media… I remember having to attend to a COVID-19 patient who unfortunately succumbed to the virus. I called the family, explained that the patient had died. I wanted to give them more. I wanted to let them see their loved one for the last time, but they are not allowed to go inside the ward. I wanted to give them more of my time, but I had 15 other patients to attend to. I couldn’t even spare a moment to process what happened because another patient might die if I don’t see them right away. These moments make us feel less human.”

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Despite all this, the battlefield is not merely limited to the fully-occupied wards of hospitals, it continues elsewhere—in public spaces, malls, groceries, and even our homes. That's why both Dr Jan and Dr Martha have voiced out a firm reminder for everyone to continue following health protocols.

Quite frankly, the virus is not the only enemy we have to fight. As of last June, The World Bank forecasts that the pandemic will have shrunk the global economy by 5.2 per cent by the end of the year, which would be the deepest recession since the Second World War. Thus, navigating the pandemic is a balancing act that calls for strong resolve and smart solutions, both medically and fiscally speaking. Both are two sides of the same coin that contribute to our society’s survival.

As of now, lockdowns act as a band-aid solution and these circumstances have stretched many of us almost too thin. “We are aware of the limitations brought about by the fear of contracting coronavirus, so we strategize around that. However, whatever little gains we are able to make are soon reversed by surprise rulings, proclamations and limitations. The biggest challenge right now is not knowing what will happen next, and without any clarity and direction, we are lost,” Elbert notes. Of his personal experience of adjusting to it all, he also had this to share, “I don’t believe that restaurants are contributing to the spread of Coronavirus. Our establishments have no choice but to comply, and it has made our plans for survival even more challenging. Economy and control of the virus are not mutually exclusive, we can operate businesses and open offices without having to risk more spread of the virus."

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Albeit bold, Elbert’s statement gives us a dose of reality. We can’t be in a timeout forever; the nature of a stand-off is that it is temporary. We have seen numerous innovations in retail and business as of late. With many people losing jobs and establishments closing, the online sphere has become a refuge for most. Still, the fluctuating socioeconomic landscape may be difficult to traverse, for which Elbert shares a bit of advice, “My tip is to not panic. With adversity comes opportunity. It’s up to each of us to do what we can to survive, salvage and conserve our resources. Eventually, we will all be back, and the conditions will likely be in a state more favourable for businesses compared to pre-pandemic times.”

The biggest challenge right now is not knowing what will happen next, and without any clarity and direction, we are lost...
Elbert Cuenca, restaurateur

Although the current call for MECQ paints medical and economic security at odds, it can be a false dichotomy—they don't have to be mutually exclusive. We can all admit it is difficult and there are endless moving parts, but none more critical than the protocols and innovations we have to accomplish in order to get through to the other side.

Lockdowns are tricky, its merits and demerits are endless. But one thing’s for sure, we need better systems. And we need it now.

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