OF TREES AND FOREST
By FORMER SENATE PRESIDENT MANNY VILLAR
Former Senate President
Beginning June 1, the National Capital Region (NCR) transitioned back into the so-called General Community Quarantine (GCQ). This meant that while restrictions are still in place on people’s movements, many of our workers were allowed to go back to their jobs. While still limited, a portion of the public transportation system has resumed services to our people. By the third week of June, these services will be expanded to accommodate more commuters.
It’s a slow process towards reviving our economy. As I wrote in my previous columns, our economy is hurting badly. A lot of micro and small businesses are barely surviving while some have decided to close permanently. It is a sad reality that we need to confront as we struggle to rebuild our lives and our livelihood (for many people these two are one and the same).
Reviving the economy should be a priority in the same manner as preventing the spread of the coronavirus is a priority. Business establishments that are now allowed to reopen—barbershops and salons can reopen at 30% capacity in GCQ areas and there have been reports of restaurants being allowed dine-in services at 50% capacity—need to bring back to life their enterprises with strict health protocols. This is part of the new normal.
While government has issued a number of guidelines, our people should realize that at the end of the day it is our habits and behaviors that will protect us from CoVid-19 as we resume our economic and social activities. We need to accept the sad fact that this type of coronavirus is here to stay for some time. Even with dozens of groups of scientists working round the clock to develop a vaccine, the virus will not go away soon. We need to learn how to live with it.
For instance, wearing face masks will now be part of our lives for a long time. The scientific studies seem to be undisputed at this point: masks can effectively block viral droplets from ejecting far from an infected person’s nose or mouth. We should get used to the practice of wearing masks whenever we go out. And business establishments should strictly require employees and customers to wear masks.
Business establishments, and the public more importantly, should practice physical distancing. This is going to be very difficult for businesses that rely on foot traffic but it is a reality we need to face. Whereas before we are accustomed to seeing people packing malls and supermarkets during the weekends, we will now see people standing 3 feet apart while checking out clothes or groceries.
I can see that this will be particularly difficult when we approach the so-called “Ber” months. Traditionally, the Christmas season (which to us Filipinos start in September) bring in a multitude of consumers in our stores. This might have to change. And it will be very difficult. A combination of new strategies and an aggressive online presence might be needed for establishments to attract customers and not be the cause of a second wave of infections.
In restaurants, I have seen some try out tables with acrylic dividers. That will be strange. Part of the joy of eating out is to be able to interact with family and friends over lunch or dinner. It will take time to get used to the idea of talking to your friends over lunch as if you’re in a cubicle.
Many of these things are uncharted territory. But we need to do what it takes to be able to recover the vibrancy of our economy. With the beating it got during the pandemic and the quarantine, it’s going to take a long time to heal the economy. But we can take the first few steps towards recovery. Just like an infant starting to learn how to walk, we are are going to have to adjust to this new world. To many entrepreneurs this is what survival looks like.