THE delicate balance between public health and the economy continue to play out as the vaccine rollout in the Philippines drags on, in an excruciating pace, and we continue to implement martial measures in an effort to keep Covid-19 cases low purposely to contain the transmission.
True enough, as we begin another month of confronting yet another quarantine classification courtesy of the IATF, we take stock of what the numbers say, such that as of this writing, our seven-day moving average is about 6,600 cases a day. This apparently indicates that the country is at a better place (?) as far as daily cases are concerned – certainly better than April 2, when cases peaked at over 15,000 that day.
This set of facts is likely in the briefing kit of IATF members so that their reading of the situation determines the way the rest of us conduct our lives in the next month or less. And so, this June, we are told that areas in the so-called “NCR Plus,” despite its GCQ classification, are allowed to travel for leisure purposes into MGCQ areas. Furthermore, it has also been reported that Baguio will receive leisure travelers from the NCR Plus bubble subject to online registration, negative Covid test results, and assessment at the triage area.
In these decisions, the game changer is economics. For more than a year now Baguio’s tourist establishments have reeled from a revenue downturn because of travel restrictions. This only highlights Baguio’s inclination to be tourist dependent and, without visitor patronage, the city’s tourism services sector will surely decline not only in terms of sustaining their operating capabilities but in their capacity to retain staff and keep them away from being included in the growing unemployment list.
These are legitimate concerns, for sure. And the theory is that opening the city for leisure travelers will give these establishments a shot in the arm (I think that is the right expression, not a “jab” in the arm, but I digress). As this scheme proceeds during this pandemic, we realize that Baguio is truly a haven for people with disposable incomes and access to private transport. The fact cannot be overlooked that only those who can afford the cost of testing, the price of accommodation and sundries, and who are within reach of private transportation can truly have a “leisurely” time in these parts.
The Baguio Hymn extols this city as being a “haven for all people” but this pandemic blew the lid of a deep-seated disproportionality in our society, that while we continue to care for the sick and mourn the dead, the imperative to open the city for the privileged is so that we can keep viable an entrenched economic structure that, it seems, not even the city’s permanent residents can sustain.
We are caught in a bind with options limited only within the parameters of a reality that we created for ourselves. And as we trudge on to the next demographic of vaccine recipients, it is noticeable that within the list of “essential workers” who will soon receive their first doses, those who are in the sector of “commuter transport (land, sea, and air)” is first on the list. Perhaps the logic behind this is that in the next few months, inter-regional transport will be allowed to operate in full capacity and Baguio will then receive commuting visitors as well.
We can infer into the trajectory of movement by our decision-makers from how the local government is focused on widening access roads for instance, or the frequent visits here of no less than the Tourism secretary, or a prediction/projection for herd immunity by the end of the year. The juxtaposition of these images doubtless leads towards a priming-up of the city for business-as-usual, and it was not long ago when we had a palpable sense of how unpleasant the thought of “business-as-usual” is for the city.
After all the realization that congestion, pollution, and poor sanitation could be a breeding ground for contagions, do we really desire a status quo at this point? Are we willing to rest our fate and future on the belief that a pandemic only occurs once in a century? If it is not a pandemic, are we certain that we will not confront an outbreak or epidemic of some kind in the future that will result in a public health emergency? If we do confront a public health emergency, can the economic infrastructure withstand the stress of a lengthy quarantine period?
From ways that we have been accustomed to, are we even willing to make structural adjustments so that the city’s population of permanent residents might be able to sustain the economy not only in the event of isolation in emergencies, but more on the idea that the tourism apparatus might be designed so that it does not paralyze the city.
These questions occur at the fringes, I am sure. But I stand at the fringes just the same, all too willing to be proven wrong. Because whether I am right or wrong, we should not confront another pandemic and suffer its consequences as we do now. I have written too many obituaries in its wake. Enough is enough.