The Urban Roamer has to momentarily take a break from the ongoing UP Diliman series to tackle, to the best of my ability, the Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the metropolis, and the country in general.
To be honest, I originally had a different tact in mind in writing this. But as the news developed quickly this past week, I had to go with a different approach but with the same end goal in mind, to be able to share a bit more about what is going and what needs to be done, without causing undue panic that some (unintentionally or otherwise, who knows) tend to do as of late.
Demystifying a mysterious virus
First things first, it’s important to know more about this disease that is disrupting the globe right now. While this disease is called the Coronavirus, it is officially known as Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19. Actually, the “coronavirus” itself is in fact a general term for a family of viruses that include SARS and MERS-CoV. Yup, those two viruses that previously (and probably still are, albeit in fewer instances now) struck fear across the globe years before.
What makes COVID-19 different is that being a new strain, there is little information as to how it developed, though some say it may have come from bats who transmitted it to other animals and eventually to humans. And with that little information, there is no known cure or vaccine yet.
It gets worse. A person who does not exhibit symptoms such as high fever, coughing, and breathing difficulties may unknowingly carry the virus (asymptomatic carriers as medical experts call them) thus affecting those who are more vulnerable to the disease, most especially people in their 60s and above.
At this time of writing (March 15), the disease now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization has struck over 142,000 people in over 130 countries across the globe and killed over 5,000. It’s interesting to note that this global pandemic occurred a little over a century after another pandemic struck fear across the globe, the influenza pandemic (AKA the Spanish flu) of 1918 which infected over 500 million people and killed – around 17-50 million.
The Philippine situation thus far
The first reported case of COVID-19 hitting the country was reported on January 30, when a Chinese traveler from Wuhan (where the virus originated) was admitted in San Lazaro Hospital and eventually recovered. Another case was reported on February 2, also another traveler from Wuhan. However, Patient 2 eventually died, the first fatality in the country caused by the coronavirus.
It would not be until a month later when more cases were reported. On March 5, three new cases were reported. One was that of an employee of a company based at the Net Lima Building of Bonifacio Global City who traveled to Japan. The other two were a couple, in which the husband had no travel history but was suspected to have gotten the virus from Muslim prayer room of Greenhills Shopping Center and the wife possibly contracting the disease from her husband. The latter case was the first recorded local transmission of COVID-19 and more unfortunate, the couple in this case died.
The numbers have been rising since. To date, the virus here has infected 111 people as of March 14, with 8 people having died from it.
While the figures here of those who have been hit with COVID-19 are not as high as those in other countries, it is enough to cause concern, considering the current limitations of the country’s health system. As such, the primary strategy is to at least contain the virus and to “flatten the curve” which means to keep the figures of those being reported with the virus on a stable, manageable number, if not lower.
As part of this strategy, the inter-agency task force that has been assigned to handle COVID-19 in the country has decided to restrict travel to and from Metro Manila, banning land, air, and sea travel to and from the metropolis. There are some exceptions though such as those who will deliver goods in and out of the metropolis and those who travel to work in Metro Manila and vice versa.
Public gatherings such as concerts, meetings, and even religious services have been cancelled. Malls are running on limited capacity and hours as the public are going out less than before, not to mention the quarantine guidelines imposed on them. Security not only carry metal detectors but also digital thermometers to monitor the temperature of people coming in. Roads are experiencing less traffic as well, and public transportation is being subjected to social distancing measures in which passengers should be seated a meter apart.
Many offices have limited those working in their premises as online and remote work is being encouraged more. Productions of film and television programs are halted as broadcasters are looking to broadcast older content instead just to ensure “regular programming.” Meanwhile, medical facilities, supermarkets, and other essential facilities are doubling on their operations. Courier and logistics are continuing their operations too and I expect they will be working more than usual as there is an expected spike for their services given the limited mobility of people.
It’s too early to tell if these measures will help “flatten the curve.” One can only hope that in some way they would work and we avoid a worse situation down the road.
What we can do
As a traveler and an urban roamer, this pandemic has hit me quite hard. While I am living outside Metro Manila, the limits of travel in and out the metropolis have hampered my activities going there for my site, important tasks that I tend to do there, and those in between. Fortunately, there is still a lot of content enough to continue with the regular programming here. We will continue with the UP Diliman series and we have some other content prepared as well.
While there is a sense of skepticism whether these limits are effective enough to contain the virus, what prevails more is a duty as a citizen in times of crisis like this one. We have to do our part and comply with these measures. If there are flaws, let us be constructive in addressing them to the authorities who are doing what they can despite their limits.
Most importantly, let’s do our part in helping control the narrative. Practice cleanliness by washing our hands with soap, alcohol, or other disinfecting/cleaning agents. (which I hope are still in ample supply) While there is no need to wear face masks if you are not in constant contact with those infected with the virus, please cover your nose and mouth when coughing or blowing your nose. Make sure you distance yourself from people along the way at around 1 meter. And if you are feeling any of the symptoms of the coronavirus disease, please go to a doctor immediately.
Lastly, let’s not let panic take over our lives. Despite the limited mobility and those fears creeping in, let us continue to do what we need to do in this situation. Continue working and living, this time in a more responsible manner than what we are used to. Let’s make the most out of this and we will come out of this better.
This is a particularly challenging time for all of us. Let us also do our part to help and pray that we will be able to get through this safe and strong individually and as a people.
If you are a map nerd, check out this ArcGIS map showing the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe.
Acknowledgements as well to NBC News, Newsweek, and Tomas Pueyo on Medium. Special shoutout as well to FlipScience for their great coverage of the pandemic in the Philippine setting and is being run by a friend and former work colleague of mine