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Brace, brace, kindly

/ 04:25 AM March 13, 2020

Panic in slow motion is the way I would describe what’s going on since the declaration of a public health emergency in the Philippines because of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease). Even the World Health Organization’s declaration yesterday that we are indeed in a pandemic (global epidemic) seemed almost anticlimactic.

The feel in Metro Manila is that we had an early start to Holy Week, with a drastic reduction in vehicles because of class and work suspensions.

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The panic in supermarkets is subdued as well. No jostling crowds or people shouting, just a lot of anxious faces and people asking the poor clerks, who probably get the same questions a hundred times a day, where the alcohol, Lysol, Clorox are.

Then there are the glum faces of vendors in empty malls. One vendor in Greenhills practically begged me to buy something so he could have a “buena mano,” a first sale, for that day. It was 3 in the afternoon.

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In the unfolding COVID-19 emergency, it is important to know what medical measures work: frequent hand-washing with soap and water, using sanitizers, self-quarantine if we might have been exposed to an infection, and social distancing.

Social distancing is a new concept and refers to reducing the possibilities of close social interaction. No beso-beso (kissing on the cheek), no handshakes, no Duterte fist bumps. Typically Filipino, we joke about new ways of greeting, some looking almost like disco-dancing as we bump hips.

Seriously, social distancing should not mean isolating ourselves and not caring for others. In fact, now more than ever, we must build social solidarity. There have been so many reports, including videos, on the internet showing the many acts of kindness in China. Inquirer recently published a front-page photo showing a close-up of a Chinese hospital worker, her face with red crease lines from the constant wearing of face masks.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post has had the most videos showing small but important instances of kindness: hospital staff in “space suits” dancing with patients to drive away depression (patients’ and, I suspect, their own), volunteers in Chengdu who visit homes of doctors and nurses who had agreed to be deployed in Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19. The volunteers check on the elderly and tutor the children.

Even animals have benefited. The Guardian, a British daily, had a video about a man in Wuhan who goes around apartments checking on and feeding pets of residents who were caught outside the city when the lockdown was imposed. He had advertised offering help, and people sent him their addresses and ways to get into their apartments.

I’ve been thinking about air safety videos played right before take-off. In case of an emergency, the plane’s public address system will order passengers, “Brace, brace,” which means to lean forward so our heads are as close as possible to the floor or other surfaces that we might hit with the crash landing, minimizing the impact.

For COVID-19, we will need to brace—but to brace kindly. Find ways to help others rather than to look for people to blame. In a plane emergency, we are reminded to first help put the oxygen masks on children (and, the airlines forget, the elderly).

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With the epidemic, many of us will inevitably be caring for relatives and friends who will be infected, and this will include the elderly, for whom the disease can be life-threatening.

A reminder as well to government and to businesses: A public health emergency means funds can, and should be mobilized, to reduce the adverse economic impact. Many casual and contractual employees are beginning to get laid off because of the outbreak-induced business slump. But even large businesses are vulnerable, and will need to find ways to keep people working, including work-from-home arrangements.

I think of a 1934 poem by James Agee (rendered into a moving choral piece by Morten Lauridsen) about the hard life of sharecroppers during the Depression in the United States: “Kindness must watch out for me, this side of the ground… All is healed, all is health.”

We could very well change “me” to “us.” “This side of the ground” means us living people, in contrast to the deceased, buried on the other side of the ground.

If only we could just embrace people more as times become more difficult, but we can’t. This time, we are challenged to look for many other ways to tap the power of kindness.

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For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: #Covid_19, COVID-19, World Health Organization
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