By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
These past two weeks have seen significant adjustments in coping with the threat that is COVID-19.
Restrictions on non-essential travel abroad have been lifted. Crossing between general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified-GCQ areas are now allowed. Buses and other mass transport vehicles maintain only a one-seat-apart policy, and jeepneys, even much closer.
Domestic tourism is opening up. Hotels resume operations for staycationers. Malls are encouraged to launch their Yuletide season promos and sale madness weekends. Category III businesses, which are generally allowed 100-percent staffing or full operation, have expanded even to certain service-oriented trades.
Restaurants are given the green light for 50-percent-or-more seated dining. Churches in Manila have increased the allowed parishioner-capacity from 10 percent to 30 percent. And, of course, two generations scientifically categorized among the most vulnerable age groups to be exposed to the coronavirus are now allowed to go out in public places – the 15 to below-21 age group and the senior citizens aged 60-65.
There’s no doubt at all that this is great for our economy. With Christmas and New Year’s just around the corner, the Philippines’ most lucrative commercial season won’t have to go for broke. And that is a good thing, considering the millions rendered unemployed by this pandemic and the mental and emotional stress seeded in many outgoing Filipinos kept in the safety-trap of their homes for months.
While the downtrend in new COVID-19 infections has been steady for more than two weeks as of this column’s writing, what remains constant is that this deadly virus is contagious, invisible, and without a medicinal cure. It is a threat as deadly and dangerous as a gun, loaded, cocked, and pointed at the back of your head.
It will take weeks before we can see the repercussions of this daring move to open up the economy and let loose not just a couple or so million more Filipinos – but the vulnerable age groups at that – out in the open.
I’m praying, of course, for an end to the transmission of this disease. But Firing Line also appeals to those who follow this corner to take utmost precautions under this “new normal”. The minimum health protocols – social distancing, wearing of facemasks and face shields, and regular washing of hands and disinfection – should be kept to heart.
Suppose it hasn’t sunk in enough among most of us. Might I warn you – there’ve been reports of people who had this infection for an extended amount of time of over a month, recovered and re-infected, exposed and dead within days; those who have it don’t know it and infected others unwittingly.
I don’t mean to be a spoiler of the fast-approaching Yuletide season, but before keeping your hopes up that this Christmas can be a time to be as free-spirited as can be, stop right there.
I join authorities, particularly the mayors and Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, in whispering hope to the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for an extension of the GCQ status, especially in Metro Manila – still the country’s epicenter of COVID-19 infections – for all our sake.
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