Caution Fatigue or Did We Stop Caring? One Year Since Lockdown and We’re Back Right Where We Started

Perspectives

Did someone accidentally press the “replay” button on New Year’s Eve, so now we’re reliving the worst of our nightmares from exactly a year ago?

One year ago, Metro Manila was put under lockdown with an urgent need of containing the rapidly spreading Coronavirus. The first period of quarantine was set to start from March 15 before the community quarantine employed more stringent measures on March 17 with the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that was meant to last until April 14, 2020, that banned travel to and fro the Manila ports within the 30 days. Since then, the country has been placed under varying levels of quarantine–until recently when social gatherings have been allowed again, and distancing protocols have been reduced to mere reminders.

It’s debatable whether or not we’re still under quarantine right now, as so many of our “normal” activities are already within our reach, with non-essential catch-ups and travel trips playing on our social media feeds like lives from a different world altogether.

A year has passed and it feels like we’ve come so far in terms of reduced protocols, and stronger mentalities when facing the outside world. If our measurement of success in handling the pandemic is a somewhat stable economy, freedom in mobility, and the speed in which we can go back to our “normal” lives, then we’re doing a pretty good job.

However, if we look at cold hard facts presented from the gathered data, the reality is this: we’re on the second surge of new cases. Which is a frightening truth, given the fact that it’s been a year, and the virus has yet to be truly contained.

As of Sunday, March 14, 2021, 4,899 new cases have been reported by the Department of Health (DOH). On March 13, the highest single-day tally since August 2020 was announced with 5,000 new COVID-19 patients.

And yet, travel restrictions are as good as lifted, restaurants and bars are at full capacity again, and face masks and face shields are just mere decorative accessories to adorn ourselves with. Truly, we’ve evolved as a society to fully adapt to the “New Normal” ways, seemingly seeing nothing short of ordinary in the new ways we’re navigating the world.

But in truth, nothing has changed. The virus is as communicable as it was last year (or maybe even more with its new strains and variants) and our only layer of protection from it remains to be Personal Protective Equipments (PPE), personal hygiene, and social distancing. One of which has been reduced to small distances in queues, while another has been conveniently removed every time we share a meal with friends, or catch-up over coffee.

If anything, perhaps we’ve just grown brave and accustomed to our new reality—so much so that we’re willing to go out, risk our lives and that of others, for non-essential social events.

Although brave is often good and celebrated, in the case of public health, it feels almost foolish to forego “fear of the virus” to satisfy our social cravings. Especially with so much at stake.

Of course, it’s understandable that we’re all feeling anxious inside our homes, plagued with cabin fever and the unwanted feelings of loneliness and solitude–not to mention the fact that payment assistance on basic necessities and social obligations have all been lifted while actual government assistance for those whose livelihoods have been heavily affected have somehow become a thing of the past. It’s safe to say that we’re all waiting for that day when we can finally march outside our doors without face masks covering our smiles, and distancing protocols blocking hugs and physical comforts.

However, we have to accept that we might not be there yet. Despite recreational centers opening up again, protocols being lifted, and what our leaders might want us to believe. This new surge of cases is proof that our country is not yet equipped to enjoy the freedoms the likes of Australia and New Zealand have earned.

It’s been a year, and we’re still not safe to roam the world outside without fear, while the vaccine is slowly being inoculated across our country’s frontliners. Perhaps it’s time we recalibrate our own bravery in facing another period of waiting and isolation, for the sake of safeguarding public health.

Instead of putting on brave faces to navigate the New Normal world, maybe we could use our own bravery to put the needs of others before us, and to just stay home no matter how much we want to go out and see our friends. This is the bravery we all need to embody right now to ensure that the virus doesn’t take anything more from our humanity, and the exposed fabric of our society.

Let this be a reminder to us all to stay home and remain vigilant in following health and safety protocols against the virus. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. And with 5,000 new cases at a day-to-day rate, we really shouldn’t be going out and meeting people like we’re not in the middle of a health crisis. Hopefully, in time, we can truly enjoy these freedoms again without putting anyone’s life in danger every time we breathe and speak without a mask on.

But until then, we have to put on our brave faces to relive the deafening silence once more, in the hopes of a brighter tomorrow in the horizon.