The scenarios playing out as we move further into uncharted social territory as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages Philippine society seems to be gravitating to just two — worse and worst. The earlier, Worse, is already a known risk today. As social distancing and lockdown periods continue to extend with no end in sight in the Philippines, the “haves” and the “have-nots” will respond differently. The haves with many options to draw from will continue to encourage compliance to the measures in place to stop the spread of the disease. The have-nots with few options — and even fewer things to lose — will, at some point, decide that getting back to the daily grind outdoors is worth the risk of catching the disease. It’s simple, really. Ultimately, complying to the lockdown will be a cost-benefit analysis.
It’s not much different from the decision making the average jeepney driver makes everyday. For the typical jeepney driver, it is a daily choice between driving a barely-roadworthy vehicle with faulty brakes while breathing in Manila’s toxic atmosphere or seeing himself and his family starve to death. It’s a no-brainer. When the novelty of the novel coronavirus wears out and the Philippines’ teeming masses decide that, between social distancing and making a living, choosing the latter is a no-brainer, the threat of acquiring COVID-19 becomes the equivalent of just another day risking life and limb driving a jeepney.
For that matter, ordinary Filipinos face far bigger risks to their life and health than COVID-19 presents just to make a living. Open manholes, sewage bubbling up at their front doors, hanging by the fingers off jeepneys and buses on their commutes to and from work, dining on pagpag, and even pimping their own kids to paedophiles — where does COVID-19 rank against those dangers working Filipinos eat for breakfast everyday? Very likely very much the same way a paper cut stacks up against a broken arm. In the long run COVID-19 will be just another one of those things that form par for the course in Filipinos’ lives.
The rich, will not see it that way. In fact they’ve never seen life the way poor people do — which is why the Philippines’ elite cocoon themselves in their chi chi gated subdivisions and chauffeur their kids to schools rather than encourage them to take public transport. COVID-19 will just be another wedge that insulates the rich from the poor. To the already high perimeter walls of the rich’s gated communities will be added more measures to socially-distance themselves from the rest of the Philippines.
The fact is, Philippine society is not equipped to cope with the sort of social distancing required to fully-eradicate COVID-19 over the long haul. Filipinos living in their big cities’ worst slums have few opportunities to keep a 1.5-metre distance between themselves. More than 10 percent of the economy is accounted for by proceeds from foreign employment. Another chunk of it comes from employment generated by work outsourced to the Philippines from First World businesses that are becoming increasingly averse to offshoring. The rest of the workforce simply can neither work from home nor be productive without coming in close physical contact with other people.
Worst case is, at best, a known unknown — that a vaccine against COVID-19 may never be developed. Some viral diseases like the common cold have too many strains to develop a single vaccine against. The flu mutates at a rate that requires a vaccine to be administered yearly. Some, like HIV which causes AIDS, interact with the body in a way that traditional vaccines cannot work with. Scientist are still working on how COVID-19 works and how the human immune system responds to it. There seems to be no telling as yet how long the research work will take.
However, if COVID-19 cannot be cured, those who have the resources to pull it off will likely continue isolation measures. Those who don’t have the resources and/or whose livelihoods depend on physical work and close contact with people will likely go back to normal life and simply embrace COVID-19 as just another occupational hazard. Ultimately, for both rich and poor, it comes down to when the point of the cost of preventing exposure exceeds the risk of going back to normal living. The poor will get to that point faster but the rich will get there sooner or later just the same. It’s just a matter of time. Unless a vaccine is developed, all roads will lead to COVID-19 becoming just another incurable disease or, like cancer, one that may see decades before a cure or, at least, a way to slow it down is found.
Things will definitely change permanently and Filipinos will need to do something they’ve historically never been good at — prepare for the worst.
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