OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
The apparent outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has resulted in global anxiety and fear. It has negatively affected businesses, and travel, and has spawned uncertainty around the world.
In the Philippines, a total of 33 cases were reported as of Tuesday. Understandably, this has created a sense of fear and panic among our people. Several locations where recent COVID-19 cases have been discovered were practically ghost towns last weekend. Supplies of face masks, alcohol, and disinfectant have dwindled.
I have talked to some business owners who are starting to feel the negative impact of the virus. Airlines, hotels, restaurants, and other establishments have seen lower numbers in terms of customer visits and sales. And if this threat continues until the second quarter of the year, it is going to have a negative effect on our economic growth.
President Rodrigo Duterte has already signed a proclamation declaring a state of public health emergency due to the COVID-19) threat. He has also suspended classes from March 10-14 in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. Some officials have called for a “lockdown” in Metro Manila for 7 days in order to avoid increasing the possibility of the virus spreading all over the country.
This is clearly a test of leadership for our government. The administration must respond quickly, vigorously without creating further and unnecessary panic among our people. This is difficult and very tricky. Government agencies like the DOH must act aggressively and proactively in order to arrest the spread of the disease. But they must be careful in their pronouncements so as not to create mass hysteria.
We need to remain calm maintain sobriety as we deal with this crisis. As with any challenges, success requires the cooperation of everyone. This requires a whole-of-society approach with government, the private sector and the public doing their part to ensure public health and safety.
I understand how businesses are worried about declining sales. But these are extraordinary times that require us to prioritize the health of the nation. Government needs to be able to do what it deems necessary in order to avoid further spread of the virus. Think about it—the virus spreading farther is going to create bigger problems for all of us. So we need to contain it immediately. That is the first order of the day.
What the COVID-19 threat has shown us is that we need to invest more in public health. We need to provide better equipment to local hospitals in order to give them the capacity to better respond to a disease outbreak.
If there is a silver lining to this crisis, it is that the COVID-19 threat has changed the hygiene habits of many Filipinos. Many are now conscious about cleanliness. Many have adopted the proper way to wash their hands which experts say is still the best protection against infection. A lot of people who sneeze and cough now cover their mouths when doing so.
I urge our people not to panic. Make sure you are getting the right information. This means that you do not have to believe everything that is being forwarded to you by friends, or those posted by some irresponsible social media users. Verify first before believing.
Be careful but do not heighten the agitation of the public. Protect yourself and your family but do not discriminate against other people. It is possible to protect our physical body from the disease without losing our humanity. Stay safe everyone!