Positivity, privilege and politics

Published January 15, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Tonyo Cruz


Tonyo Cruz

If you, your family and your friends are fully-vaccinated, you should worry a lot less compared to past pandemic surges. Thanks to the vaccine, you’re protected from severe infection and from death from Omicron and other variants of COVID-19.

We cannot afford to forget this as we face down this New Year opener of Omicron’s rapid spread. Yes, those in the know should still patiently listen to concerns and take care of the sick. But we should also calm them and ourselves by reminding them about the protection of vaccines.

I’m bringing this up because of the sense of panic in many circles and many homes as more and more continue to report experiencing flu symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, and positive results from antigen and RT-PCR tests. If you’re vaccinated, please feel protected. We are not as unprotected and as defenseless compared to 2021 when we were still waiting for the superpowers to end their moratorium on the export of vaccines to countries like ours.

The panic of the fully-vaccinated (plus those who already got their booster shots) should be tempered by the guarantees of the vaccines, which was the reason why we demanded mass vaccination in the first place, at the sound advice of our progressive doctors.

Not all the fully-vaccinated live in the same situation.

If you live comfortably in a spacious house where there is an extra bathroom and a backyard or balcony, or alone in a condominium unit, there’s a level of privilege there that the majority of people in Metro Manila can only wish to enjoy.

Safe home quarantines are possible only for persons who live in houses where there could be rooms with their own toilets, or those living alone. These persons would most probably also have credit cards, fast internet access, access to private healthcare providers, and to delivery services for whatever they need.

For most people in the National Capital Region, dwellings are often cramped. Two families with kids could occupy a home. Most middle-class apartments only have one shared toilet. In many urban poor areas, where many of our delivery riders and other essential workers live, toilets are often shared. There’s no space to roam around. This situation makes home quarantine impossible, and makes it a state obligation to provide free public quarantine facilities.

The panic over dwindling supplies of over-the-counter fever, cough, colds and flu medicines meanwhile is well-founded. We should transform this panic into an anger at authorities for slow inaction to address the supply issue.

Overall, the outrage over the surge is not unwarranted. People decry the government’s refusal to implement mass testing, and its abandonment of contact-tracing. Both are important to combating the pandemic, according to the world’s and the country’s top public health experts. In many areas especially outside the major urban centers, the mass vaccination drives continue to be slow.

The focus of the government lately does not address the public’s outrage. For instance, the Department of Transportation has unveiled a policy of “no vaccination, no ride” when Omicron could infect anyone regardless of vaccination status. If COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, neither should public and private transportation.

It is yet another example of epic incompetence in directly addressing the issue of the Omicron surge. Instead of pulling available funds from the trillions in the national budget and the hundreds of billions in new debt towards a mass testing program and contact-tracing, the government focuses on discriminatory policies against the unvaccinated.

There is also a view that a quarantine should have been imposed when positive cases rose from around 300 in late December to tens of thousands in the first week. A proper quarantine could have arrested the spread of Omicron. But the government seems uninterested in providing “ayuda” that goes side-by-side with a quarantine. Neither was big business open to the idea of another slow-down due to a new quarantine.

The well-off, the educated, and the informed should be able to see through the muddled situation today, mind their privileges and be champions of the unprivileged. We should redirect our fury over the overweening arrogance and epic ineptitude of authorities, towards exposing the social cancer that saddles the pandemic response and afflicts the nation.