Notes & Essays

Brace Yourselves: We're Going to Be Seeing a Lot More Health Protocol Violations

Many of us are reaching a breaking point.
IMAGE SYED AHMAD / UNSPLASH
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Two instances of gross violations of current health protocols dominated social media over the past few days. Both involve relatively well-known personalities, and both were called out by livid netizens because they chose to celebrate their birthdays in public spaces in the company of friends. 

We’re not going to rehash the events because we’re pretty sure you’re privy to all the sordid details, but what’s interesting to note is that this isn’t the first time public personalities flouted quarantine rules and seemingly got away with it. Government officials—who one would think would be the first to follow their colleagues’ orders in order to set an example for the rest of us regular folk—have instead ended up committing high-profile violations that have made people skeptical of the rules at best, and downright ignore them at worst.

It sounds fatalistic, but something tells us we’ll be seeing and hearing more people walking around in public without a mask and face shield on, surrounded by 10 or more people celebrating a birthday, christening, engagement, or Saturday night in close quarters exposed to each others’ breaths.

A long lockdown

Metro Manila and a few other places in the country have been in some form of quarantine or lockdown for nearly a year now. One year. Despite completely upending our way of life, most of us have done our best to comply: We’ve stayed at home and have only gone out for food and other essentials. We’ve canceled vacations and postponed road trips and chosen instead to stay indoors watching online videos, playing video games, and perfecting the art of annoying our housemates, all because the most levelheaded among us understand that the welfare of the most vulnerable takes precedence over our own pleasure and comfort. (Well, that, and we just don’t want to risk catching the virus ourselves). 

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But the reality is that it’s just not that simple. It’s easy for the most privileged among us to yell at the TV or rant on social media that other people shouldn’t be eating out in restaurants, walking around in malls, or booking a trip to Boracay or Baguio. “Just stay the f**k home,” we’d say. That’s the smart, honorable, patriotic thing to do.   

But it’s been a year and, if we’re being completely honest, we’re all exhausted. Cabin fever or domestic fatigue, whatever you want to call it, it’s a real thing. Having a home where we can feel protected and safe is an amazing feeling, but there’s a reason there are so many shopping malls in the city; that there are so many bars, restaurants, and dining outlets; that travel is a multi-billion-peso industry. Human beings (most of us anyway) aren’t built to stick around in one place for too long.

Rationalizing questionable decisions

After nearly 11 months in lockdown, many of us have memorized every square inch of our homes and watched every single title on Netflix. Twice. We’re losing patience and picking fights with family members. And I haven't even mentioned the effects this lockdown has had on our mental health. No matter how strong our will power, many of us are starting to reach our breaking point and, eventually, we’re going to be rationalizing questionable decisions:

“Oh, it’s just a quick lunch with some colleagues at work; I haven’t seen them in ages. Besides, we’re gonna get a table outside.”

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“I’ve worked so hard, I deserve a vacation. Besides, the people in the travel sector need our help.”

“But I’m turning 30! It’s a milestone and I want to celebrate it with friends. Besides, we’ll wear our masks the entire time.”

You’re going to hear a million other excuses or even tell yourself some version of these excuses to justify the decision to go out and—so the saying goes—live a little.

Which is how we got episodes like the ones involving the two celebrities/recent birthday celebrants.

Same penalties

The government and those tasked to ensure our health and safety understand the delicate balance between keeping us indoors and encouraging us to go out to help stimulate the economy. They can’t help but mandate basic health protocols—mask and shield, washing our hands, no gathering in large groups. But expecting 100 percent compliance from 12 million people (in the NCR alone) is like expecting zero people tuning in for a Manny Pacquiao fight on TV. Or a local election where there are no reports of cheating or fraud. Or ABS-CBN killing off Cardo in Ang Probinsyano. It’s just not going to happen.

The most government can do is to impose reasonable sanctions on those who breach quarantine and health protocols—a stern warning, a fine, or, in extreme cases, even jail time. Whatever it is, it’s absolutely essential that officials apply the same penalties to every wrongdoer. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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About The Author
Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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