Sunday Essay: Lockdown

Isolde D. Amante

OVER the weekend, I tweeted God.

Not that God, obviously, but a very funny individual who runs the account @TheTweetofGod on Twitter. He had posted: “I’m forbidding Jesus from working until this is over. You’ll have to die for your own sins now.”

Finding that hilarious, I responded: “How’s social distancing working out for you three?”

So far, God has not answered. At least not Twitter God. If I get any sort of revelation from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I’ll let you know but first I’ll try to land a book deal.

Now, I realize that posting irreverent tweets that might make some of my fellow believers clutch their pearls seems like a frivolous thing to do. I know, however, that holding on to a sense of humor will be a good part of what will get me and those I love through this pandemic.

Also, our pastor is not on Twitter.

Am I sad or anxious or angry at all about all that’s happening around us? Of course.

When that community quarantine or lockdown or whatever you want to call it starts on Sunday, March 15, in Metro Manila, a few of my friends and relatives will still be there. One of them is a senior citizen. One is a lovely cousin whom I met for the first time just last year, when she flew to Cebu for a visit. They’re in for an unknown number of difficult weeks. We all are.

When President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the nation last Thursday night, I elected to get some sleep and avoid all the drama and hysteria on social media. I expected to get better, more lucid information from the next day’s coverage, when the editors of the news outlets I respect had had a chance to digest what was announced and to explain what it meant.

And I felt right.

I was “choosing my experience,” as the Australian business coach Kerwin Rae put it. I have decided to do less of the things that tend to amplify my worries and fears.

That doesn’t mean willful ignorance or blindness. I read at least one to two stories each day to stay informed about this unfolding pandemic. But I choose my sources carefully. In this, I don’t always succeed.

One of the stories I read, for example, in the MIT Technology Review pointed out that some biohackers and health-care entrepreneurs recommended stockpiling one month’s worth of shelf-stable food; prescriptions, antibiotics, and cold medicine; disinfectants; and reading material.

At least I have five years’ worth of reading material available, I thought. But the story rattled me, for a while, and it took a lot of effort to rein in the anxiety that began to rise when I thought about how vulnerable my mother, who is in her 70s, and my niece, who is 22 months old, could be.

Our National Government’s response, so far, has been painfully inadequate.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is the director-general of the World Health Organization, has urged countries to take a comprehensive approach to fight Covid-19.

“Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all.”

We aren’t testing enough. That’s obvious. Hoping that the hotter summer days ahead will somehow break this new virus down isn’t much of a strategy. For pointers on strategy, listen to the YouTube clips of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s two announcements so far about Covid-19. That’s the kind of leadership I can trust in a crisis like this: precise and calm, free of rambling and self-dramatizing, urgent but not alarming.

I am very curious to learn how effective we will be at social distancing, even as I know this will be near-impossible in the crowded and poor neighborhoods where more than a quarter of all Filipinos live.

I am taking note of good advice, where I can. On LinkedIn, an emergency medicine physician wrote a comment to the writer Brene Brown that I found valuable.

“We all carry a choice within us,” Gene Gincherman wrote. “We can choose to be afraid, self-centered and alone. Or we can choose to lean into our fear and anxiety and, at times, anger, and act like the only way through and out of this pandemic is in recognizing our interconnectedness and embracing a circle of compassion that includes everyone, without exception.”

I hope this helps you. Stay well.