Inside The Quarantined Metropolis

The disease that changed the world

COVID-19 is the official name given to a new strain of coronavirus which has characteristics almost similar to SARS, but deadlier. Now, it reached a larger scale of destruction in six continents.

In what could have known as a disease caused by eating wild animals, particularly bats and snakes, COVID-19 has put the world into unprecedented unrest, triggering social and economic instabilities, modifying people's lifestyle and altering day to day activities. Establishments are shut off, social gatherings are halted. And close to 20 countries are now implementing a lockdown policy.

This deadly virus was believed to have started in a seafood market in Wuhan and recorded its first detection in December 2019. However it did not reach global news until the middle of January 2020 when a young doctor from Wuhan revealed in the social media that a SARS-like flu is emerging, and might spread to every part of the world if China will suppress information. He later died from the disease a month later.

It was a warning that was not taken seriously, with Countries, including the Philippines, still welcoming tourists from China. The Philippine president. known to develop a silly fondness over China, even hesitant to impose restrictions on travel.

Two months later, the world woke up in shock to see the scale of the disease's massive damage to human life. Now, it is the rest of humanity that will going to pay a high price for the government's negligence and lack of immediate action.

Nations are now in chaos how to mitigate the spread of this deadly disease, which transmitted human to human through respiratory droplets. Countries scrambled to implement strict measures to contain the spread of the virus. From Lockdown policy, community quarantine to self-isolation, social distancing and travel bans.

But are all those measures effective?

It could be, but in some parts of the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, social distancing and home quarantine still generation away, I supposed. I still saw people roaming around, piling in the street, standing in line going to the grocery and entering the bank. Without anyone controlling them. Stubbornness at its finest.

It is uncertain if the enhanced community quarantine measure for a month is really effective with this type of citizens. So far as of March 18, infected individuals already rose to 202 with 17 recorded death and only seven have recovered. With 8.42% fatality rate, Philippines has the highest mortality rate on the disease compared to other countries that have the most number of infected people. China, where the virus originated, only has 3.98% fatality rate, and Italy, which is the epicenter of COVID-19 in Europe, has 7.94% fatality rate.

Why is this so?

Perhaps due to poor healthcare system in the country compared to China and Italy. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it as a global health emergency in February 2020 and on March 11, 2020, due to the rapid spread of the virus, it was thoroughly declared as pandemic.

Political and social impacts were massive. Schools were closed and social events, including gatherings in sports and celebrations, were prohibited. There's also a heated discussion among citizens who will take responsibility on the spread of the virus in the country. Even criticizing the government for lack of concrete action before the outbreak. Powerful nations blaming each other for lack of support.

More than 130,000 are now infected worldwide with more or less 3,700 recorded death. The epicenter of the disease, Wuhan in Hubei province, China, remained isolated while Italy suffered the most among countries in the first world.
Situation in the Philippines

The country recorded its first case of coronavirus in January 30, 2020, a Chinese tourist from Wuhan who arrived in the country in January 20, she later recovered. Two days later, on February 2, 2020, her partner was confirmed by DOH to have died from the disease. It was the first death outside China related to the disease.

Currently, the number of cases in the Philippines rose to 202 with 17 recorded deaths and seven who recovered. Most of the infected individuals have no travel history outside the country, thus, a community transmission was believed to have already established.

To prevent further transmission, the government, after public pressure, announced that the National Capital Region, which is also known as Metropolitan Manila comprised of 16 cities and one municipality (Pateros), will be placed on community quarantine starting March 15.

Netizens again were engaged into heated debates to resolve the difference between a Lockdown and a community quarantine. Political ideology strife is alive once more with the government's trolls and fanatics came to the rescue to defend this administration even if its gross negligence was the culprit why we are plunge in uncertainty right now. This cultural disease of Filipinos sounds like deadlier than the virus. I find this tiring very tiring and annoying and mentally exhausting.

Consumers were plunged into hysteria and panic buying mode, scrambling to stock pile commodities for a possible closure of major establishments, some were hoarding sanitary products like alcohol and toilet paper, Lysol disinfectant and, well, face masks, which have longed been out-of-stock since January.

In as much as I was trying to avoid a situation where I would join the "mob" diving to the shelves of groceries to grab food and sanitary supplies, I could not just stand the agony of piling in the long queue to the cashier for hours just to for a pack of wet wipes and vegetables. So I joined the chaos. 😂

Panic buying hits the Philippines
Photo: ABS-CBN News

Saturday was terrible. As though we were travelers, racing with time to reach the border before its closure. It was less than 12 hours before the community quarantine will take effect in NCR. The scene was intense, travelers going home to the provinces crowded the bus terminals, supermarkets and groceries rammed with shoppers.

Scene in SM Supermarket looked like an airport with tense travelers hurrying to catch their departure schedule. It was a bit stressful to see the environment plunged into anxiety. Everyone wanted to stockpile items in the pushcart that I could not even find a small bottle of Garnier facial cleanser.

I wanted to take a breath in the corner but I could not, because the line going to the cashier was getting heavier. At last when I was done, I finally took a deep breath. I went straight to the food court to eat my late lunch. I saw only few mall goers in the area, which was always filled with a thick crowd taking meals during regular days. I went home with an exhausted mind and body. So tired I felt I was having a flu haha!

The Community Quarantine

Under the guidelines released by DILG, community quarantine of NCR, which took effect on March 15, Sunday, movements of people will be limited and will be restricted only to traveling between home and workplace. Borders between provinces should be closed. Social distancing should be strictly observed. But public transportation within Metro Manila is still operational exempt for local travel through sea, air and land outside the border.

Photo credit: Phil Star

When I went to work on March 16, I decided to take a bus all the way to Mandaluyong to avoid the large crowd in MRT. Only in the platform that social distancing was observed in MRT but on the ground, people stood up close to each other on their way to the staircase. A scenario that would possibly lead to transmitting the virus.

I could feel a very tense environment while on the bus. Everyone was just minding their phones and cautious not to look around. When someone would sneeze or cough, I felt like hiding beneath my seat, and my first reaction was to pull a bottle of alcohol and started spraying my hands.

The whole scenario made everyone feel a bit paranoid. We clung to our alcohol spray as if it was the the last resort to stay alive. About 90% of us wore face mask, a circumstance almost unthinkable three months ago.

I was also in a cranky mood because the bus driver was still allowing people to get aboard despite some were already standing in the aisle. See, this whole community quarantine thing would be very useless with public transport drivers being stubborn to follow orders.

Borders have checkpoints but soon getting crowded due to confused individuals and motorists over rush announcement and vague guidelines. Whatever it is, community quarantine seemed ineffective since it will still allow movements of people, works and public transportation still operational, and the possibility of catching the virus was still imminent,

Response of the private sector

The private sector, especially the BPO companies, except for some, has the slackest response. On the morning of March 16, they still stubbornly refused to allow their employees to work-from-home or at least proposed an arrangement that would not compromise their employees' health. The only option they entertained was to let employees go to work and just offered to provide additional transportation allowance as if the equivalent of a person's life is just a spit of an amount.

See, how selfish and unsympathetic these decision makers and leaders of BPO are. Their minds are trapped on the client's data protection policy thing and not really on the welfare of their wagers.

In this time of crisis, true colors of leaders emerge. We will really know who are those who cared for their resources, who are compassionate in the real sense of the word and who are those selfish and obstinate managers who lacked empathy. Most of them are just treating us like some pieces of a computer, worthy to be thrown out when no longer in use. These kind of leaders make me lose my faith in humanity. This means that in crisis like this, they are bum. They have not anticipated event such as this to happen. No logical solution laid on the table in case of a worst scenario.

Enhanced Community Quarantine

Close to dusk on March 16, 2020, the government changed its plan. They announced that the island of Luzon will be placed under enhanced community quarantine which would severely restrict the movement of the people and would stop the operations of the mass public transport.

This revised plan perhaps came after evaluating the initial result of the community quarantine which was ineffective with people still exposing themselves to possible transmission of the virus.

Under enhanced community quarantine, mass public transport will be suspended and except for health workers and front liners, movement of the people will be limited to buying commodities and taking a trip to the clinic for those with pre-existing conditions.

As the night fell over the Metro Manila's skyline on March 16, people were racing with time to go home before the public transport will cease its operations. I was lucky to leave work early at 9:00 in the evening.

When I reached EDSA to wait for the bus, I saw only few vehicles in operation. The once chaotic EDSA, normally filled with commuters, private vehicles and public transport,  on a daily basis and covered with smog and dust day and night, now seemed slowing down.

I arrived in Novaliches at 10:00 in the evening. And when I disembarked from the bus and crossed the street to catch a jeepney ride for Caloocan, three uniformed men approached me and asked my identification card with a barrage of questions. Where I came from, why I was still in the street at 10 in the evening, where I worked. Etcetera.

Tense! I pulled my wallet with a trembling hand as one of the men seemed in a hurry to get my I.D haha! After checking stuff in my I.D, name, address, picture, they let me walk.

I ran toward the jeepney terminal and found it already filled. But the dispatcher still allowed me to catch the trip with three others. At 10:30 we crunched on the road dense in traffic and stopped at the first checkpoint with heavily armed police personnel. And the trouble came in.

The jeep I was on was in full capacity, you know, stubborn drivers who refused to abide with the rules. So the police did not let us leave unless some will disembark. Arguments, heated explanations and hesitations soon followed before annoyed male passengers agreed to disembark.

Such a tense night! I arrived home with a heavy baggage-feel for the day. Then I read on the news that tons of commuters were stranded in the street due to the effect of the enhanced community quarantine.

Public transport was effectively suspended and none was allowed to cross the junction. This caused hysteria to employees who regularly came home late due to work schedule, especially in BPO. With no way to catch a ride, some were forced to walk for miles.

The Full Effect

Shopping malls were closed early on March 16. Restaurants including cafe and fast food, only catered take out orders. However at the stroke of midnight on March 17, food establishments shut off its operation.

Since movement of the people is only limited to accessing necessities like grocery and medicines, all establishments not related to grocery and pharmacy must be closed. Unnecessary travels are strongly prohibited. Only a trip to the hospital is allowed but needed to coordinate with local officials to arrange for a transport if no private vehicle.

Photo credit: GMA Network

However, as obstinate and as unyielding as they are, some BPO companies still digging their heels to the ground to find a way not to cease the operations. Though some of its decision makers were forced to make a last resort to salvage the damage by allowing few to work-from-home, it was still sounded unsympathetic to the situation.

Their minds still occupied with clients' welfare not their employees' cause. That data protection policy thing is ravaging their heads like tempest to never mess with contracts, but at the expense of their employees' health. Talking about catastrophe, figuratively.

Once chaotic road, EDSA now empty. Photo credit: GMA Network

Now, home quarantine is in full effect for everyone in the metro, but not sure in the entire Luzon. I stopped checking news. I feel tired reading the effect of this health crisis to the world. Tired hearing the debacles of the people and the fanatics' defense to the administration, even if not substantial.

I just want to enjoy this moment of solitude, this silence of the environment. For introverts like me, home quarantine feels like a paradise. I can be alone, I can avoid a noisy crowd, I would not be compelled to go to work.

I love this moment of peace. I love the idea that mother earth is finally taking a break from the noise and pollution brought by modernity. The environment has the opportunity now to heal itself from destruction.

Mother Earth Taking A Break

This enhanced home quarantine and lockdown scheme of the nations are beneficial to the environment. For so long, environmentalists and nature advocates are calling for cooperation from all sectors to mitigate climate change.

The world is already dense and polluted, and each year, global warming is getting worst. Highly industrialized nations are guilty of releasing tons of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases to the air, worsening the condition of the earth.

Ortigas is so cool without cars. Photo credit: ABS-CBN News

Carbon footprints of individuals and companies are getting higher everyday. This is due to lifestyle, air travel, land travel, improper disposal of waste, consumption of electricity of big industries, the tech companies are primary emitter of energy.

Due to these uncontrolled activities in the environment where governments, including the Philippines are hesitant, if not, refused to take actions, climate change is getting worst and mother earth seems bleeding to death.

Photo credit: ABS CBN News

But in 2020, the world got its hardest lesson on the abuse of the environment and nature. When coronavirus erupted worldwide, nations scrambled to their feet to prevent its deadly transmission. Seeing as the only measure to stop the widespread, several countries implemented a lockdown and quarantine policies.

This measure gave way to the environment to breath from waste and air pollution. Travel has stopped and movement of the people has been limited. Roads became empty and surroundings are enjoying silence and stillness for the first time since the Ice Age.

Tranquility at its finest!

Now, we know what will happen to us if we continue abusing nature and things in the wilderness. When mother earth hits back at us, we are always at the losing end. Coronavirus is believed to have started in the seafood market in Wuhan and the disease has been transmitted to human by consuming a bat or a wild snake.

What a wonderful world!

Now, it runs havoc to six continents with thousands infected globally. As health experts  scrambled to come up with a cure, everyone is racing with time before the unseen enemy could catch. And world plunges into uncertainty.

Mother Earth is healing

When this crisis would be offer? When this enhanced commumity quarantine would be lifted. Hope soon. Hope one of these days the disease would stop thriving. And we could get back to normal. This is a hard lesson that we should be taken seriously.

Praying to God for protection. And for everyone's safety. May we surpass this ordeal the soonest with intact spirit and mental health. Let us cooperate and stay indoor. Always maintain good hygiene.

Inside the quarantined metropolis is a plenty of stories to tell. But one thing is certain, it brings good to the environment.

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