"We are aware, more than ever, of the inequities in our society."
Seven months into the pandemic, the world is still struggling how to deal with it. Are we to go the Swedish way where individual discipline and responsibility are the main planks of public response to COVID-19?
Or are we to do what the Chinese did immediately after detecting the first cases of this pandemic in Wuhan - impose a strict blanket lockdown on identified areas of infection, accelerate the set up of health facilities, and let the government do the cleaning up?
In both countries, the infections have been largely contained, recoveries have been on the rise and deaths minimized. Their economies are back on track except that in Sweden it's a bit slower as its trading flows have yet to be revved up. China, on the other hand, has the benefit of a large domestic market which the Chinese leadership has decided to grow even faster now that global trade has slowed down. So, even as the world struggles with balancing lives and livelihoods, these two countries have gotten off the starting blocks faster than most.
In our case, we have yet to stabilize our response protocols. We decided to have a blanket lockdown in the first three months as we struggled to introduce the much needed protocols, ramp up our health systems and allow our workers and their employers to get used to lesser commutes and in situ work. Quite apart from such a changed work protocol with all the problems the same brought in its wake, we have, unlike our neighbors in ASEAN, to make sure that thousands of our overseas workers are brought safely home.
Now, as we get to our seventh month in lockdown, we are adjusting albeit quite evenly to living with this virus. We have gotten used to observing the minimum health protocols, adjusted to delivery food, made better use of our longer-stay-at-home time and found other means of keeping body and soul together.
As we scan the new landscape which the pandemic has created in its wake, we are confronted with the stark reality that inequity within regions and among classes has gotten even more pronounced. Even among countries, for that matter. In our part of the world, countries like China, Japan and Korea have been able to set up their response protocols faster and more effectively than most of the rest. In ASEAN, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam have fared better than us and Indonesia.
Within our shores, richer LGUs like Makati, Pasig, Manila and Mandaluyong have been able to cope better not only in the medical response systems but in taking care of the basic needs of their citizens better than most LGUs even as Metro Manila remains a COVID-19 epicenter. Sadly, these LGUs – especially those with huge informal settler communities -- also saw the other face of inequality where families have to make do with hand outs, barely making it through the day.
That sad realization became even more pronounced with the opening of classes last October 5. We were witness to students in private schools complaining about the loads of school work they had to do online. Most others in the public schools had to make do with hardly any laptop at all. It is not far-fetched to think that this divide will extend into adulthood for most of these kids, even as the government tries its best to even things out, at least in terms of access to proper educational and work opportunities.
And so it is that as we get into our seventh month of this pandemic and adapt to a new reality living with it we are faced even more starkly with the hard facts confronting our lives - uneven development and inequality in almost all aspects of our day to day existence as we forge ahead claiming our place in an increasingly complex world.