Life under lockdown in the Philippines
Life under lockdown in the Philippines
On August 24, the Department of Health reported 3,010 COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines. But as health workers continue to battle the virus, the majority of the population is emerging from strict lockdown measures trying to find ways to survive and cobble together a sense of normality. Sheila M., 48, is a Manila-based HR and administrative officer and a mother of three. She talks about life after lockdown, the physical and mental toll of COVID-19, and the new reality for most Filipinos.
As told to Irish Mae Silvestre
We realized something was wrong in February when the government was trying to pacify people about the pandemic. One day after work, my friend and I went to Landmark in Makati to buy groceries and we noticed people were buying a lot of things and packing them in boxes. It wasn’t normal. It turns out people were panic buying.
By March 16, Luzon was under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). It surprised us since it’s the first time we weren’t allowed to leave the house; you needed a pass to buy essentials. Without standard procedures on how to distribute basic necessities, it was up to local government units to create their own programs. From March to June, we received food assistance – goods and rice – twice.
People in low-income areas didn’t receive anything. On the news, they interviewed senior citizens waiting in line all day for government stipend of around PHP5,000 (CAD136). But even after lining up early, they didn’t receive anything. That’s how miserable it is.
When we returned to work in July, that’s when reality hit me.
Our office announced they’ll be cutting the number of workdays. Since our company’s in construction, business is down. Pay cuts are what hurt the most.
There’s no public transport like jeepneys so we have an employee shuttle. People have a terrible time trying to get to work. There’s no sufficient mode of transportation that’s why the rate of infection is getting higher. Waiting in line for the train or bus, there’s no social distancing. That’s where people get infected.
There are a lot more people begging on the streets. Jeepney drivers who can no longer work are also on the streets asking for help.
Then on July 21, I started feeling unwell. I was sweating profusely, yet I felt cold. Then the body aches started. I called my mom and told her to take my 10-year-old daughter to her place.
As soon as I got home the symptoms went away. It only manifested on the second week. I learned that COVID-19 symptoms are different for everyone. I suspect I might have caught the virus at a supermarket. Although I wasn’t hospitalized, the recovery wasn’t easy.
I was anxious I might have infected others who’d been around me. Then the depression crept in. It wasn’t just the fear of the disease but the isolation. Even if I wanted to hug or talk to my kids, I couldn’t. My husband travels for work so I still had to manage on my own, which led to the feeling of self-pity.
I took Stimuno for my immune system, I had an inhaler for when I was out of breath and I took Azithromycin, an antibiotic to prevent phlegm. I lost my sense of taste – I had to drink ginger tea and juice because water tasted like rust.
After I recovered, I thought, “So this is what COVID-19 does.” Until now, I have a hard time breathing after climbing the stairs. While my sense of taste is back, I haven’t fully recovered my sense of smell.
At home, I juggle housework, office work and my daughter’s assignments. I have deadlines at work, deadlines with my child’s schoolwork and the housework.
If you have three kids you need three laptops, otherwise you can’t enroll your child at school. And the price of personal computers has increased: from around PHP20,000 (CAD545), now it’s PHP38,000 (CAD1,036) because there’s a need.
In terms groceries, the situation is better. It used to take me half a day to line up, shop and line up again at the cashier. Now, supermarkets have fixed their procedures so it’s faster. However, you can’t go into malls without a quarantine pass, a face mask and a face shield.
The paranoia’s there. People are afraid you just can’t see it on their faces. They’re scared to catch the virus but it’s more important for them to support their families and put food on the table. There’s a sense of indifference. They just try to live with it, that’s the sad part.
To add to what’s happening now, there’s the PhilHealth anomalies. Our contributions are being stolen. This pandemic made me realize that there’s nothing for us here in the Philippines. It’s hard to hear but that’s the truth unless there’s change but that will take years.
I told my kids if they can migrate then do so. If they want to stay here, they need to make sure they have a safety net. Otherwise they can’t depend on anyone but themselves. I want my children to have a better future even if it’s not here. I want them to go somewhere where they can reap the benefits of their work and it won’t get stolen.