What happened to my world?

Guest Blog by Grant Leishman

To paraphrase a famous American politician – March 12th 2020 is a day that shall live in infamy!

Nah, not really!

In fact, March 12th 2020 was a pretty special day for me and mine. You see, that was the day my beautiful wife celebrated her 60th Birthday (a milestone to be sure!) and it was also the last time our family was all together in one place. Her children had gone to great effort and I have no doubt, expense to organize something incredibly special to mark this milestone in this wonderful woman’s life. Sadly, all to no avail. The insidious, creeping, threat of the Coronavirus was stalking us and by the time Thess’ birthday rolled around, we were pretty reticent about going anywhere or doing anything that might expose us to risk, especially since we are both of such “advanced” age nowadays and therefore likely to be at higher risk should we become infected. So, as a compromise, everyone in the family, who was able to, came to our house and we had a quiet celebration here, which was fine and a thoroughly enjoyable time was had by all. Little did we realise, though, that this would be the last time we would see the kids or the grandkids for some time (five months thus far) and certainly not all of them together, in one place.

Grant Leishman – Author

The next day, March 13th 2020 the Government of the Philippines declared a state of General Community Quarantine (GCQ) for the area encompassing what is known colloquially as Metro Manila but is actually made up of 16 individual cities that house somewhere in the vicinity of 15 million to 20 million people, depending on who you listen to. Now, I’ve lived here for approximately 10 years, having come from New Zealand in March 2011 and frankly, never leaving (although I did sneak away for a month, last October, back to my homeland). In the time I’ve lived here I like to think I’ve grasped a little of the “Pinoy” culture and the Pinoy mindset. One thing I do know, for sure, is that Filipinos absolutely adore acronyms. They use acronyms for absolutely everything. When we’re watching the news on TV, I’m constantly asking my wife; what does that stand for, as yet another acronym flashes up on the screen? This has certainly been the case for this pandemic and the country’s response to it.

So, as I stated earlier on March 13th, GCQ went into effect. March 13th was a Friday, so on the Monday most of us were wondering just what would happen? Would people still go to work? There was no public transport available, so, if they did go to work, how would they get there, if they didn’t have a car? Well, needless to say, Monday was an absolute schemozzle, with millions of people trying to still go to work, even if they weren’t sure if work was still happening. I remember seeing pictures of queues of people standing by the main roads of the Metro trying to hitch a ride or walking miles and miles in the 30-plus degree heat to try to fulfil their perceived obligations to their employers and of course not lose their job or their income, by not turning up.

The Government, not surprisingly, reacted strongly to the chaos and declared a state of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) for Metro Manila. ECQ effectively closed all businesses except for those vital to survival. Millions of Filipino’s (us included) were now confined to our homes and only allowed to leave to go to the supermarket for food supplies or a pharmacy for medical needs. Like other countries, the Philippine government was hopeful that this “lockdown” would “flatten the curve” and allow the somewhat struggling medical facilities to cope with this pandemic.

The Philippines has a fantastically modern and sophisticated medical structure, with some fine hospitals and wonderful doctors and nurses. What you need to understand, though, is that the gleaming, medical response is just a thin veneer (for the rich and the well-connected). Beneath the glittering, shiny facilities like St. Lukes, Makati Medical Centre, and Asian Hospital & Medical Centre lurks a plethora of poorly funded and struggling public and private hospitals that were neither prepared for this pandemic nor able to cope with it. The “front-liners” have done a tremendous job with limited resources but a public health system, riddled with corruption and systemic failure has really been pushed to its limits by Covid-19.

When the number of cases began rising sharply and deaths were occurring daily, the Government instituted a new acronym. Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine across the entire island of Luzon (where Manila is) and also in various other Corona hotspots across the country. Five months on from this and we are still, to all intents and purposes, “locked down”. The official level for Metro Manila did drop a couple of weeks ago back to GCQ i.e. General Community Quarantine but before very long we were back to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), as the cases and deaths keep rising. The President is set to announce the new quarantine level on Monday August 17th, so who knows where we’ll head then.

From a personal standpoint, there have been pluses and minuses to the quarantine. As a semi-retired person, I probably didn’t go out that much before quarantine, so staying at home was not a massive exercise for me. The biggest plus to the whole thing has been the wonderful women, I have been quarantined with. The past five months spent in “ultra-close” proximity to my wife and step-daughters (from time to time) have been rewarding, challenging and yes, at times, frustrating but I’ve gotten to know, to understand, and to be much more tolerant of the people I love, over this period of confinement. That has been the biggest plus of this time, for sure. The biggest negative – not seeing the grandkids and the other step-children. God, I miss not having the opportunity to hug the grandkids (we have quite a few, you know!) The other negative, I guess is just the absence of choice. Do I particularly want to go somewhere? Not really! But, do I miss the ability to make that decision for myself – ABSOLUTELY!

Who knows what the future holds for all of us – if nothing else, this pandemic has reminded us just how tenuous our journey on this planet is and how important it is to cherish and celebrate the joys and happiness in our lives. Things are transitory but relationships are forever. Love those that surround you, appreciate their uniqueness, and make sure you hug them all every day, just in case you don’t have that chance again. Life is about loving people and loving yourself – make sure you do both and know that one day we will look back on this pandemic and perhaps see, that we, as a human race, fundamentally changed our outlooks forever. Remember always – “This too shall pass!” Be happy and be healthy!

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