Now for the really bad news, courtesy of a reader in the Philippines:
My wife and I are teachers at an international school here in Manila, Philippines. We enjoyed our summer off back in the US and Italy, where my wife is from: breathing fresh air, taking our young son to the playground, going out for ice cream — you know, all the normal things that humans do that we haven’t been able to do over the past year because of the draconian restrictions imposed by the Philippine government. It certainly was a breath of fresh air. Despite all of the madness going on in both the US and Italy right now, I am still green with envy at the freedoms enjoyed by the people living in those places. It jarred my brain to meet people this summer who have never had to submit to (multiple) PCR tests.
You can imagine our morale as we returned to Manila a few weeks ago (we are contractually bound by our job). Here in the Philippines, it’s as if time stopped in April of last year. Still, you must wear both a face mask and shield when you leave your house. Still, children under 18 and senior citizens are technically not allowed to leave their houses (although this summer that loosened up a bit, but after two weeks “delta” put an end to that). Still, schools are closed. Still, you must have a negative PCR/antigen test to travel to the next province, book a flight, or stay a night in a hotel. Still, gyms, theaters, cultural institutions, and outdoor sites (such as the American Memorial Cemetery–a cemetery!) are closed. Still, upon entering every shop or workplace one is subjected to a temperature check and a contact tracing form. Still, most restaurants are take-out, or reduced to 50% capacity (only on the lowest-level lockdown). Still, people think that if everyone “just gets the vaccine,” COVID will just go away and all of this will be over. Still, what is considered the longest lockdown in the world continues.
Indeed, what is happening in places like France and Australia is very alarming, but it is frustrating to see that the Philippines is never acknowledged for its continued brutish restrictions that have been imposed as a result of the de facto martial law that has reigned over this country since all of this began. At least in other places people are beginning to question the narrative; there isn’t even a shred of that here. People are too scared of the government.
Here in Manila, we finished our two-week hotel quarantine and went right into a hard lockdown, the third here since all this began in March 2020. Once again, due to the so-called “delta” variant, citizens are expected to remain at home for two weeks (a tired trope by now) and may only exit their residences for essential items with a quarantine pass (one per household). Outdoor exercise was allowed until yesterday, but the authorities probably got spooked into banning it when they saw people still outside enjoying themselves (or trying to be healthy) and not cowering in fear at home.
Naturally, only “essential” workers are allowed to leave their homes to go to work, and because teachers are somehow included in that category I consider myself lucky to be able to leave the house; our 4-year-old son, however, isn’t so lucky. Our students are beginning the school year virtually, so you can imagine student (and teacher) morale. Most likely, the current round of hard lockdown will carry on until at least October: they always start out with two weeks, but then extend it by a month or more. It’s always one step forward, five steps back here. I’m sure we’ll get two weeks of loosened restrictions in November before the government panics about people wanting to be human for Christmas and then walks everything back.
I suppose what is particularly frustrating about this round of house arrest is that the government didn’t even try to justify it with rising “case.” It was just, “We could have over 10,000 cases a day because we have ‘delta’ now, and we don’t want the hospitals to be overrun.” Reading the local news, the screeching about rising “cases” and the daily death toll that characterized previous stay-at-home lockdowns is conspicuously absent. Instead, the headlines praise the improved vaccine rollout, which until recently has been mostly farcical (and is one of the activities that has been allowed to continue during the lockdown)….
In a certain sense, there is some serenity to be found in the assurance that nothing will change here in the future, that lockdown will be on the horizon here indefinitely: at least you know where you are at. On the other hand, that can swing the other way, too, and with it comes feelings of desperation and hopelessness. Additionally, the government makes decisions so quickly and capriciously that the small pleasures of life that can be squeezed out of the current situation can be snatched away at any moment, like outdoor exercise, or whether the policeman patrolling the local park will stop turning a blind eye to you taking your kid out to get some sunshine because of a new top-down order he received. All of this takes a heavy toll on the soul. Thank goodness that we have been spared the divide-and-conquer rhetoric regarding vaccines, so far.
When will this ever end? No one knows, and there is no answer, no stated goal….
I’ll admit: I had no idea things were still so bad in the Philippines. Imagine a full lockdown and no dissident voices at all.