The Long View: And now for the hard(est) part


And now for the hard(est) part

 / 04:07 AM October 28, 2020

I admire the management of one of our most venerable universities who, according to one professor, decided that “normal,” that is, face-to-face, classes, won’t resume not only until a vaccine against COVID-19 is ready, but also that the vaccine is affordable and thus widely available for the public. By their reckoning, that likely won’t be until 2022 at the earliest, and so innovations and refinements of online teaching are continuing for that institution. As it is, aside from the health of students, that of faculty are endangered by any undue laxness when it comes to the virus; many would fit into vulnerable sections of the population.

In the view of the authorities, however, the strategy — if it can be called that — arrived at early on appears unchanged. The strategy was to mount a near-absolute lockdown for as long as possible, using punitive means as much as necessary, until, in the view of big business, the economy couldn’t stand it any longer. At that point, the government then began to relax the rules, doing so in a manner that retained officially stricter-sounding labels compared to more lenient implementation. The idea seemed to be, the lockdown for a maximum bearable period would tide society over, after which psychological conditioning (the officially harsher categories remaining even though the reality on the ground would continue becoming more and more relaxed) would serve as a deterrent.

In recent days, this carefully-maintained official fiction has been challenged by the release of observations and recommendations from the , composed of alumni and faculty and contributors from the University of the Philippines and the University of Santo Tomas, and Providence College. At one point, presidential spokesperson “Hairy” Roque said he wished the group wouldn’t publicize its findings and recommendations. The group had recommended stricter lockdowns in Batangas (Bauan), Western Samar (Calbayog), and Cavite (Gen. Trias); more recently, the group said it expected cases of COVID-19 in the National Capital Region to rise over the next couple of weeks, because of the relaxing of restrictions, and thus the rise in passengers on public transportation over the past week.

But as the group itself puts it, “The virus is still with us, and people must remain disciplined and vigilant. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that this GCQ will be more open and relaxed than the GCQs in the past to promote the health of the economy.” In a nutshell, there it is: Categories may officially remain the same, but implementation is on a sliding scale inclined toward the relaxation of restrictions. The biggest damage to the economy since at least the Marcos years, and, quite possibly, since World War II, means lockdowns except on the most local of levels are off the table. What is left is personal discretion, which expands the more one is plugged into the virtual economy.

To be sure, the authorities, national and local, have reserved restrictions to prevent the most obvious of super-spreader events: specifically, All Saints’ and All Souls’ days. But that is just a pause as everyone braces for the holiday season. The depressed — and depressing — state of the economy may mean things like office parties and the like will both be socially and financially unacceptable this year; but every family will wrestle with the temptation to reunite for the holidays with all the risks that entails.

As areas outside the metropolis also begin to open up, there will be a great impetus to travel for the holidays for those who can still afford it (and after months of lockdowns, many would have saved for this). The real test of our collective ability to maintain even the most basic of precautions might just be the Christmas season.

Oddly enough, the best-prepared for the “new normal” may be the young. Back in 2007, McCann Worldgroup had already observed: “Teens are watching less TV, listening to less radio, reading less books and magazines, are doing less sports, interacting with friends face-to-face less frequently, and spending less money on traditional consumer items…. thanks to virtual connectivity technology like text messaging and the internet.”

By all accounts, 13 years later, an even younger generation has found it not only uneventful, but actually positive, to shift to online learning (presuming, of course, access to the internet and adequate bandwidth). It’s the teachers and professors who have been having a hard time adjusting. Students are freed from exhausting commutes and having to spend on snacks and so on outside!

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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