OF TREES AND FOREST
The first anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown is upon us. It’s an anniversary that doesn’t inspire any celebration. But it should prod us towards introspection and assessment.
Looking back, what were the things we should have done differently? The purpose of evaluation, of course, is not to place blame or to undo the past, which in any case is impossible. It should be an all-encompassing evaluation involving not just government but the private sector and the general public as well. The importance of assessing what we did is so that we can be better prepared for the next pandemic, which as scientists pointed out, will most likely happen again.
It’s hard to imagine it’s been a year since a deadly virus disrupted our normalcy and caused so much sickness and death. On March 15 last year, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire National Capital Region and Cainta, Rizal, under a partial lockdown or “community quarantine.” I remember there was a lot of effort exerted in avoiding the term “lockdown.”
The following day, President Duterte decided to place the entire island of Luzon under “enhanced community quarantine” or ECQ. This was one of the many acronyms that would become part of our lives—ECQ, GCQ, MECQ, and MGCQ. On March 17, President Rodrigo Duterte would signed Proclamation No. 929 placing the entire Philippines under a state of calamity on account of COVID-19.
These decisions were made after the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed on January 30 and the first death from the virus was confirmed on February 2. This was also the first confirmed death outside the Chinese mainland where the virus was said to have originated.
In one year, the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the lives of our people and the world. It has wiped out the economic gains we have achieved the past decades and it has changed our world completely.
As of press time, the Philippines has a total of 591,138 confirmed cases. More than 12,000 of our kababayans died due to the virus while there remains 43,323 active cases. There are now fears of another surge because of the increasing number of daily infections and the presence of new variants from the UK and South Africa.
We need to learn from our experiences the past year. We cannot let our guard down. The fact that vaccines are on their way over to the country should not lead us to complacency. As the World Health Organization (WHO) correctly pointed out: “The arrival of vaccine is a moment of great hope. But it potentially also is a moment where we lose concentration.” We should heed what WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan preached, “We should not waste the hope that vaccines bring… by dropping our guard in other areas.”
Let us not think that simply because the vaccines are here (a small number at least), we can go back to normal. We should continue what we have been doing the past year—wearing masks properly, observing physical distancing, washing our hands often, avoid touching our face and covering our mouth when sneezing or coughing.
The lockdown was important especially during the first two weeks in which the hope was that we can trace and isolate efficiently in order to arrest the spread of the disease. But what one year of lockdown has taught us is that the most effective way to combat COVID-19 is to ensure that everyone follows safety and health protocols.
So let us celebrate one year of the lockdown by rededicating ourselves to doing our absolute best to follow safety and health guidelines that have been proven effective in lowering infections. This way, we don’t need to go to another restrictive lockdown. This way, we can remain COVID-free as we wait for the hope that vaccines bring.