A most abnormal 'new normal'

posted June 01, 2020 at 12:15 am
by  Lito Banayo
"If data fed us are wrong, where the hell is credibility?"



Starting today, we will move on to a general community quarantine (GCQ) after the last two weeks of a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ), after two months of an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). In short, from a severe lockdown (and foreign observers say we had Asia’s “strictest” kind of lockdown) to a modified lockdown where restrictions on people movement were limited to some, and now to the beginnings of what is called the “new normal.”

Here in Taipei, where I have stayed for the last 77 days, the new normal hasn’t been very different from the how would you call it, real normal. From February, we were advised to wear face masks, temperature scanners became ubiquitous, alcohol and hand sanitizers were positioned in lobbies and entrances which were used by patrons and guests. School children were asked to stay home for two weeks, during which classrooms were disinfected, and then back to school they came. Work never really stopped, and “skeleton” workforce was left to the discretion of management.

By mid-May though, one noticed less thermal scanners including in our building, though we still require it in our office. By then however, washing hands most often and using 75% isopropyl alcohol was already ingrained as habit, and a sea of face masks everywhere had become the usual. Foreign offices such as MECO received a weekly supply of these non-woven cloth masks from Taiwan’s CECC, supplied to all by a ramped-up production mandated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs from private manufacturers, and distributed through the foreign ministry for alien residents like us.

Every day, I get a report from government through my cell phone about the state of the battle against the COVID-19, more popularly called by Taiwanese, the “Wuhan virus.” It’s almost become boring, as I write this, the concluding portion of the report read: “Until 30 May 2020, the total cumulative number of patients…are 442 (last week it was 441, and the week before it was 440). Of 442 confirmed cases 351 cases are imported, 55 cases are indigenous, and 36 cases are Navy members on a vessel of the goodwill mission fleet. 421 patients have been discharged from the hospital and seven patients were deceased. There has been no community outbreak.”

Compared to CNN reports about Trump’s US of A and Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, Taiwan’s boring quotidian reports are like a blizzard amid wildfire.

Then I switch on to my subscribed TFC channel for news at home, where the numbers strike fear in one’s heart. Especially alarming was the week that just passed, where the numbers jumped from some 14,000 to more than 17,000, and the no longer reassuring voice from the DOH spokesperson who claims the “new, improved” numbers (I remember that from a Tide laundry detergent commercial) are because of ramped-up testing.

Surprisingly, she admitted that, and I will not even translate this: Sa mga namatay naman, 17 ang ni-report natin kahapon. Pero hindi ibig sabihin nito kahapon lamang sila namatay,,,iba po sa kanila ay Marso at Abril pa namatay.”

What the f--k!, I exclaimed. But that was just one in a long line of proofs that our DOH hasn’t been “transparent” enough in its reportage. No, not transparent enough, not transparent at all, and never was. DOH middle management whisper about regional reports being “quarantined” before release. I say “massaged” might be a better term.

So if data fed us are wrong, where the hell is credibility? What was it Senator Win Gatchalian reminded us about “garbage in, garbage out?” But here I go again. It is early morning this Sunday and I don’t want my blood pressure to go up again.

Looking forward though, when will travel to the 7,600 (I lose count) as more shoals in the West Philippine Sea are discovered, some of them likely cemeteries for dead corals, ever normalize? That is our problem in the office because 80 percent of our revenues which support our existence are derived from visa fees. Last year, 2019, we were crooning over our highest-ever number of Taiwanese visiting the Philippines; today as I write, we are all morose from three months of zero revenues. That is our new normal in MECO, the de facto embassy here which is not subsidized by the Filipino taxpayer.

So that looks like our new normal for the rest of the year, maybe until next. Who but a few business travelers would visit a country where health management fudges data, used as they are to accurate information from a government whose officials do not obfuscate and who take their task of caring for public health seriously, who took pains at testing, tracking, treating in a most transparent manner and so earned their – and the whole world’s --- trust?

To be fair, our health workers have discharged their tasks far beyond human endurance, even to the point of dying, and we all salute them as “heroes” even if many of those lives were wasted because of sheer incompetence from those who lead them in battle. But here I go again…

Move on…look forward, friends advise, into the new normal.

Well, that new normal is going to be most abnormal.

Ride public transportation with polyethylene dividers which with our heat and humidity will be almost suffocating. Dine in eateries where “social” distancing will be enforced, making you worry about your favorite holes-in-the-wall and carinderias where people have to be squeezed into a few square meters of rented space. Cinemas (when they are allowed to open) where seating would be few and far between; what will happen, you wonder, with basketball games where cheering for your favorite team amid packed stadia becomes no-no? Or outdoor concerts with lusty musical bands, and bars where dancing will now be “distanced”? (And my eldest grandson has just turned into a teen-ager!)

My driver worries about his high school kids back home --- what about their schooling? If they enforce home study through computers, his kids are all right because their adopted lolo (that’s me) gifted them with laptops last Christmas, but what about the rest of our “future?” And I don’t even know about kids in the countryside where neither “cloud” nor internet towers exist. I pity my highly respected Sec. Liling, at her age still wondering how to make do with this most abnormal “new normal.” And her overworked undersecretary, my “inaanak” Alain Pascua who together with Vince Dizon and other good friends, need to endure those interminable IATF meetings which produce more saliva than solutions.

I worry about the OFWs, seamen included, who will be laid off, as many already have been, and will come home in droves to NCR, or “balik-probinsya” where hardly any work or farm awaits them. And small businessmen with debts piled up and problems meeting their weekly payroll, let alone paying the monthly rent with paltry earnings and wondering how in heaven he could re-invent himself. Or farmers and fishermen adjusting to the new normal.

It ain’t going to be easy. Not this year, neither next. Globalization is virtually in tatters, and our economy is hooked into it. Going back to basics is not too easy either, and thank the huge population of 110 million for that, with many more “lockdown babies” added by December or January.

BSP’s Ben Diokno whistles in the dark; Sonny Dominguez is trying to squeeze more blood from stone; and NEDA’s young whiz kid is poring at templates from Keynes to Krugman.

And if you are as “young” as President Duterte, you never knew what it was like to live during the Pacific War. And that, the senior macro-economists warn us, is what the new normal might be like. But we were only 12 million then, and it’s still the same number of islands, the shoals and islets in the West Philippine Sea yet un-discovered and un-claimed.

Topics: Lito Banayo , new normal , general community quarantine , GCQ , coronavirus disease 2019 , COVID-19
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