‘Ber’ months in COVID-19 times
What a hectic time it’s been, preparing materials for online classes this coming semester: late bedtime, but still early to rise. Tuesday morning, I had to get up particularly early to get back to the work.
I was preparing breakfast for myself and for the dogs when they began barking.
My ex-partner had dropped in unexpectedly.
When he drops in early in the morning, I know he’s up to something again, but I beat him to it by going, in exasperation, “I’ve run out of food for the dogs.” I avoid commercial dog food because it’s actually cheaper and healthier to prepare your own.
“I’ll go out and get something in the carinderia,” he immediately offered, making me more suspicious about what he needed.
In a jiffy, he was back with food. Turned out there were several carinderias less than a kilometer away, in an urban poor area.
“Do they practice physical distancing?” I asked with concern. He answered that it was impossible to do that in carinderias, so all they do now are take-outs. I had forgotten that carinderias have been doing more of take-outs even before the pandemic, three meals and snacks, a huge help for people who work.
On Sept. 15, we would have reached the sixth month of the world’s longest lockdown. Even with the relaxation of rules, it is still a strict lockdown, especially in urban poor areas, and while the carinderia owners are happy they can now sell food, they’re a long way off from pre-quarantine income levels. Half a year of lost jobs and lost income has meant people scrimping on budgets even for low-cost take-out food.
It all takes added poignancy given that we’ve started the “ber” months. If we’ve had the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world, we also have the longest Christmas season, ushered in on Sept. 1. But as I write, I look outside and the skies are overcast. I don’t know if the radio stations are playing Christmas carols.
I used to find it all ludicrous especially with the crass commercialism in malls, but this year, I wouldn’t mind if we tried extra hard to generate early cheer and joy.
The other week someone did ask me, rhetorically, “Paano kaya ang Pasko ngayon?” (How might Christmas be this year). I could only smile and say, “We’ll manage, we have to for the children,” knowing well it would not be easy.
It’s clear that the pandemic will be a long haul, past Christmas into the new year. Even if we do have a safe and effective vaccine by next year, there are still many concerns relating to access, enough coverage in the population, the length of immunity it will give, etc.
A vaccine alone will not control the pandemic. We need to sustain our masks, physical distancing, handwashing, but people are tiring of these simple but apparently tedious measures and are always looking for quick fixes.
I had to visit a condo recently and the guard ushered me to a tiny basement cubicle of a waiting room. I told the guard I preferred waiting outside and he switched on the aircon, thinking maybe I was affected by the heat. But as the aircon came on, I could imagine coronaviruses floating in the air and waiting to enter into me. I looked across the hall and saw the property management office with several people cramped into another cubicle. I just had to tell the staff they had to do something about their high-risk areas.
“We do antibody tests,” she tried to assure me. I had to explain that the tests are just screening methods and are not very useful to prevent COVID-19.
It might well be a sad Christmas if the virus is allowed to rage on through communities and workplaces.
We need to continue to push the government to get its act together. It should never be a choice between lives and livelihood.
Government has to prioritize the poor and the middle class, who don’t need more dole-out ayuda but tax exemptions and low-interest (or no-interest) long-term loans, not just for businesses but also for getting children through school.
My ex did finally get around to asking if I could change a 100- euro note (about P5,500), someone’s payment for part of his collection of Ferrari model cars, the ones sold in gasoline stations during “ber” months in years past. They are collector’s items and he had hoped, at one time, that he could someday pass them on to his kids.
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