Social Distancing is key in this war against COVID-19

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 19,2020 - 07:00 AM


Cebu is now virtually on a war footing due to COVID-19, a fitting but sad tribute, if not a terribly bad time in itself, to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. 

Like this virus, it took some time for the enemy to reach Cebu, four months and two days to be exact, between the Japanese sneak attack at Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1942 and their landings at Talisay and three other towns on April 10, 1942.

But then as now, the enemy did reach us. Yesterday it was finally confirmed through one case, that of a 67-year-old now recuperating at a private hospital, that the dreaded enemy has finally landed. As had happened to Cebu in 1942, classes have been suspended and everything else has gone haywire in the lives of Cebuanos, including the panic buying. (I am tempted to imagine that this must have been how Cebu was like as it prepared nervously for the Japanese to finally invade.)

I know it’s a bad analogy but the only difference between that war and this one, is that the enemy then was visible, walked on two legs, and stayed only in the major towns and the capital city of Cebu, venturing out from time to time only to get killed by guerrillas. 

Unfortunately for us today, this enemy we are facing now has none of those characteristics, except that the carrier walks on two legs. Like the war then, however, there is a ‘bullet’ that is predicted to kill the enemy now, in the absence of cure and a vaccine. That bullet, according to health professionals, is called social distancing. 

An article shared to me by my good friend Dr. Patrick John Lim, a full professor of chemistry at the University of San Carlos, shows the value of social distancing in four simulations that you can view online in a Washington Post article entitled “Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve” by Harry Stevens. (You can check this out on my Facebook account).

Guess what works well in those four simulations? The last one, of course, where a population of 200 people in which only one in eight are allowed to go out to work or do important errands, clearly shows that the exponential curve (as in a graph) resulting in the rise and doubling of cases every three weeks or so, will disappear or flatten.

Of course, maintaining at least a meter apart from one another is easier said than done. Cultural practice and social norms have a lot to do with killing this enemy we are facing now, as proven so tragically by Italy. Italians love to hug and touch each other, no malice meant, and all as a sign of acceptance and an expression of camaraderie. But, sadly, a very fatal behavior in the face of this enemy. 

Thankfully, we Cebuanos are not as showy when it comes to expressions of acceptance and approval as the Italians, so much so that an anonymous report written in the 1600s, ascribed to the Jesuit priest Diego de Bobadilla, painted Bisayans as very crude in manners. It seems that our stoic, poker-faced demeanor against strangers and people we are not acquainted with, our mere raising of the head as a sign of recognition, will work in this looming battle.

But there is one practice borne out of the necessity of public transportation that majority of Cebuanos have come to imbibe: the squeezing of bodies in a tight space. If there is one way for this virus to win the day, each day, it is this behavior. And this is what law enforcement officers should address.

Already someone posted on a Facebook account last night about seeing passengers being told to get off of one jeepney in order to enforce social distance. Those passengers, alas, then started walking ahead as the jeepney moved slowly and, the moment no one was looking, got into the same jeepney they just got off from. I can understand that those passengers want to go home before the curfew. But such recklessness and the desire of the jeepney driver to earn more money despite all the risks involved is rooted in one other attitude among Filipinos. It is called ‘Bahala na’ or come what may.

It’s the same attitude that one sees in reckless motorcycle drivers eking out a living in the city. It can be both positive and negative but in this time of COVID, it is the number one collaborator of the virus. This attitude will make social distancing an impossibility if we continue with it. The moment you surrender your day to fate, to a come-what-may attitude just so you can earn some money, will be the end of us all.

This earnest request from government for everyone to practice social distancing and to stay at home is, without doubt, very, very difficult, especially for wage earners and the poor. But it is just for a month or so. It can stamp out the enemy by killing its number one source of survival: warm human bodies. This request will run for just four to six weeks. It is nothing compared to the four long and arduous years it took for World War II to finally end. If our grandparents and great-grandparents sacrificed so much then, we can, as we should, do so now when so little is demanded of us in even less time./dbs

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TAGS: COVID-19, Japanese, social distancing, World War II

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