Hunger, fear, caution, dependency
This piece is about my four takeaways from Social Weather Stations’ media releases in the past week, based on its May 4-10, 2020 mobile phone survey about the COVID-19 crisis.
- The hunger rate exploded. The proportion of families that experienced hunger due to lack of food, in the three months before being interviewed, was 16.7 percent, almost double the rate of December 2019, when previously surveyed. The hunger rate rose to 24.2 percent in Mindanao (up by 11.5 points), to 20.8 percent in Metro Manila (up by 11.5 also), to 14.6 percent in Visayas (up 5.2), and to 12.6 percent in Balance Luzon (up 6.3). (See “Hunger among families doubles to 16.7%,” www.sws.org.ph, 5/21/20.)
Yet the COVID-19 crisis did not cause a shortage of food, nor an increase in the price of food. What it did was to frighten the government into locking up the great majority of the Filipino people in their homes, away from their regular livelihoods, for fear of spreading the disease. Correctly anticipating the consequences, the government introduced a cash dole program aimed to feed 18 million families, or 80 percent of the whole country. Without the amelioration program, the suffering from hunger would surely have been much worse.
- COVID-19 brought fear of illness to a record high. The survey found 73 percent of Filipinos worried a great deal that they or someone in their family might get infected by COVID-19. This compares to an extremely worried 49 percent about contracting the Ebola virus in 2014, 56 percent about getting Swine Flu in 2009, 48 percent about Bird Flu in 2006, 62 percent about Bird Flu in 2004, and 54 percent about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, based on SWS national surveys in those times.
Fear of infection is extreme in all areas: 81 percent in Visayas, 78 percent in Metro Manila, 73 percent in Mindanao, and 67 percent in Balance Luzon.
In addition, there is much more fear of COVID-19 in the Philippines than elsewhere. In the United States, those extremely concerned about getting infected were only 36 percent in a May 13-14 survey. Those very worried about COVID-19 were only 26 percent in a March 28-29 survey of Australians, and 34 percent in a March 18-20 survey in the United Kingdom. (See “Worry about COVID-19 is greater than all past worries about viruses; worry in the Ph is greater than worries in the UK, Australia and US,” www.sws.org.ph, 5/24/20.)
- In line with their fear of COVID-19, the great majority of Filipinos take proper precautions. With respect to using a face mask when going out, the SWS survey found 77 percent saying they do this always; it found that 15 percent do it most of the time, 4 percent do it rarely, and only 0.2 percent never do it. As to washing the hands several times a day, 66 percent do it always and 27 percent do it most of the time. On keeping social distance, 64 percent do it always, and 19 percent most of the time. Those doing these practices are equally many in all areas, and equally many for those in enhanced community quarantine and those in general community quarantine. (See “Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, 77% of Filipinos always use a face mask, 68% always wash their hands, and 64% always keep ‘social distance,’” www.sws.org.ph, 5/25/20.)
As urged by the government, the great majority of Filipinos have hardly gone out. The SWS survey found that, in the past seven days before their interview, respondents left home an average of 2.58 times in order to buy food, 1.29 times to buy medicine, and 1.21 times to do a financial transaction. (See “Four out of five Filipinos went out of the house 1-3 times in the past week for essentials, mainly food,” www.sws.org.ph, 5/27/20.)
- The lockdown has caused a state of dependency among the people. Given its continued reluctance for the people to resume their customary livelihoods—in particular, its sluggishness in permitting ordinary public transport to operate—the government must keep devising schemes to keep millions of people on “amelioration,” and new ways to finance the doles. Otherwise it may bring on a second wave of hunger.
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