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  • Dan Albert S. de Padua

The Long Quarantine

A baby conceived at the start of all the quarantining would have been born by now. It might have been named Pandemia (which sounds like a kind of bread) or Covida (which I guess is OK until she turns 19) or Emceeque (pronounced as in bar-b-que) or Jessie-Cue (in the Visayas).

Three-fourths of the entire population of the world have already marked a birthday during this Covid crisis. Some people had mañanitas instead of parties but most celebrated in little bubbles with food delivered on a motorcycle, if they celebrated at all.

We’ve worn masks so often that our ears no longer complain about being pulled forward.

This is it, folks. The life we live—stay at home, work from home, no travel, no big gatherings, no live events, temp scans and QR codes at every door, masks, shields, masks and shields. Calling it the “new normal” has gone out of style because it’s old hat by now, not at all new anymore, and because somehow it still doesn’t feel normal. We pin our hopes on the vaccines that the manufacturers tout as being 95% effective; but even without these vaccines, wasn’t the positivity rate supposed to be less than 10%, of that percentage the hospitalization rate even less, and the fatality rate smaller still? Yet we needed to lock down, cancel all events, and be home by 6:00 p.m. With a vaccine that’s 5% ineffective, won’t we still need to wear masks? In places marked by such gross official incompetence that testing and contact-tracing are perceived as useless, do we really think that vaccine distribution will be any better? Besides the two million doses contracted for so far will only cover 1st priority front line workers. (I’m in the 11th “priority” category.) And tucked away deep in the back of our minds, there’s this niggling worry that these vaccines that were rushed through testing might have some unknown long-term side effect. (See the movie I Am Legend.) Again, my point is: This is it. For many more months to come, we will be stuck here, counting down the days to an ending that keeps getting pushed farther away.

It’s time to look at the bright side of things for the sake of our sanity.

Here’s a good one: We’ve rediscovered our neighbors. No, it’s not about socializing. It’s about trusting and relying on people nearby for goods and services. I like to think of it as a continuation of the trend towards hyperlocal markets, but that sterile description doesn’t capture the joy of having a merienda of old-style ensaymada from the lady across the street. Or the sheer pleasure of having the sea bass in lime that a friend prepares and sells in our village only as a hobby. Or the sense of security that comes with joining the guy next door in having our government transactions handled by a guy who lives just a few more doors down the road.

Then there’s the delivery economy. It’s just so much more efficient. I can order practically any kind of food via an app, have it sent to me or to anyone else, pay the bill and even add a tip using my credit card, then sit back and track a little man on a motorcycle scooting through a map on my phone. Quick, easy and fun. Plus, there are all sorts of deals and bonuses. Did you hear about the Mang Inasal promo where ordering one chicken large family size got you a family size palabok (good for 4-5) absolutely FREE? If you’re willing to wait a few days, you can order almost anything online for delivery. I have ordered personalized AirPods Pro, Christmas gifts, high end appliances, even furniture, and I thought of ordering a Ford FX4 pick-up but my wife said no. She’s right, of course. Why buy a vehicle when everything can be delivered?

Have you tried telemedicine? It’s wonderful. My doctors are never late for an appointment. I used to hate sitting for hours in a cramped waiting room surrounded by old and sick people. Now, if I have to wait at all (which never happens), I’m at home. True, some things have to be done in person, like drawing blood for testing. My wife and bubble-mate, who is more expert at searching the hyperlocal delivery universe, found a nurse or med tech who comes to the house in full PPE, sticks needles into me and emails the results the next day. Quick, easy, not fun, but amazingly cheaper than going to the hospital.

The biggest revelation for me is that online education is actually, definitely better than face-to-face classes. Over the years I attended hundreds of hours of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) courses organized by different universities and commercial providers. The lectures were often so bad and so useless that the Supreme Court proctors literally forced lawyers to stay seated by signing the certificates of attendance only after the required class hours had been completed. During this super-extended quarantine, however, I was forced to enroll in online MCLE courses, and I’m happy to report that I’ve learned countless new and useful things that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Let me explain the advantages of online classes in the elementary school context to make it relevant to more people. The key is, instead of having 50,000 teachers of varying capabilities each struggling to teach 40-50 pupils in a classroom, in online education you have one master teacher—the very best available on a particular topic—recording a teaching module that will reach students one at a time in their homes. The very same teaching module can be used wherever there is access to the internet; and each student can view the material again and again, if necessary. That same module can be improved. It can be gamified. It can have built-in testing. It can even be dubbed into mother dialects or subtitled. (Isn’t that how Filipinos learned Korean?) Add to all this the obvious advantages of having parents or older siblings nearby to help. Of course, we know that children, unlike some lawyers, need to socialize with other kids their age; but doesn’t most of the learning-to-play-well-with-others occur outside of class hours anyway? We can have online classes and in-person extra-curricular activities.

Look, I’m not saying that there’s no suffering out there or that the bright spots I see can light up everybody’s lives. I’m just one guy sitting in front of a laptop trying to be a little happier about the disaster movie we’re living in. In the end, I think we can find ways to cope, survive and even thrive. I’ve seen those who lived through the privations of the war times do it and those who call themselves martial law babies do it, too. I’m counting on Pandemia de la Cruz, born in 2020, also making herself better off than those who came before.




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