Day-to-day behavior must change until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found despite the easing of quarantine restrictions across the country, an expert in medical anthropology said over the weekend.
In the media forum Saturday, University of the Philippines (UP) professor Michael Tan, appealed to both the government and the public to behave with health and safety in mind while the virus continues to pose a threat.
The former UP Chancellor also called on all Filipinos to be kinder and more understanding, highlighting the importance of social solidarity in the fight against COVID-19.
“I know this many people are having a hard time, but this is something we are in together,” Tan said in a mix of Filipino and English. “The biggest fear is that if the quarantine is lifted in different areas, what we might experience what happened in other countries that saw a new spike in cases.”
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He said sometimes, it could be just a minor incident, such as the “super spreader” who infected more than 100 people in South Korea, when he went pub crawling after the country reopened bars and nightclubs
Tan expressed his confidence that the government’s measures, such as the quarantine, have made a difference while the country ramps up its testing capacity and better prepares the health care system.
He also called on government agencies to closely study urban housing programs as a long-term policy response to protect poor and other vulnerable individuals. Tan has also been impressed by the increase in small and micro-scale entrepreneurs, such as street-side sellers who have begun selling health-related products to prevent further transmission.
“We’ve learned many things during the lockdown when our movements were restricted. It turns out you didn’t need to go to the supermarket once a week or go to the mall every day. We are learning to differentiate between what we need and what we want,” he said.
From a socio-cultural perspective, there are many common Filipino habits that could be revisited in response to the pandemic. He said, for instance, that the public needs to be reminded not to touch their face masks and not to take them off.
He also reiterated the importance of proper cough etiquette to avoid droplet transmission.
Another behavior that needs is public spitting, which encourages the spread of the virus.
Recognizing that millions have been hit hard due to the disruption of livelihoods, Tan called for social solidarity and compassion by considering quarantine measures as a shelter, not a prison.
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“It’s not true that we are stubborn and disobedient. Filipinos can be reasoned with,” he added in Filipino, citing recent altercations between the public and the authorities.
Tan appealed to local government officials to be more compassionate about home quarantine and consider allowing the use of designated safe spaces for fresh air, sunlight, and exercise for the people’s immune systems and general health.
Under the omnibus guidelines on the Implementation of Community Quarantine in the Philippines recently issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force, individual outdoor exercises such as outdoor walks, jogging, running, or biking are allowed within modified enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) areas provided that the minimum health standards and precautions such as the wearing of masks and the maintenance of physical distancing protocols are observed.
READ: IATF sets guidelines for phased transition from ECQ to GCQ
Absent any cure or vaccine, COVID-19 will not be going away anytime soon. The country will have to continue many of the current measures on expanded targeted testing, isolation, and treatment of patients, Tan said.
Tan also emphasized that compassion should still be at the heart of everyone’s actions.
“We have to start with ourselves, start to learn to be more considerate,” he said. “We have to start to be kinder.”