The “New” Normal
Opinion | Jessant Louie Garferio
Our administrators always insist that we are currently in the “new” normal: a neo-era in the presence of COVID-19. But in the Philippine context, what does the “new” normal even entail? Over one and a half years of being quarantined, what we have only witnessed are ambiguous policies and questionable decision-making in addressing this global public health crisis.
Does the “new” normal posit slow vaccination rollout, rampant corruption, dolomite beaches, commodification of our health workers, or prevalence of red-tagging dogs? Ultimately, does the new normal mean shifting from one confusing lockdown level to another?
For almost two years, we still hear the same lockdown levels being assigned to regions across the archipelago. The shifting from one lockdown level to another seems to be like a game of roulette being played by our so-called leaders, producing restrictions that are both futile and confusing.
Theoretically, lockdowns help lessen the transmission of the virus by limiting the movement of individuals. But in the months that have passed, why does it seem that our cases do not plummet to manageable numbers? Even with the restrictions, why do our country folks, especially the proletariat, still go out? Why are they having difficulties following movement restrictions? Are they “pasaway”? Or are they exhausting all possible options for them to survive?
Our lockdowns have been failing to serve their purpose because they are out-of-touch. People will not go out if they have no reason to, and our current lockdown policies fail to recognize their reasons. Citizens leave the comfort and security of their homes to work and to put food on their tables . With inefficiencies and discrepancies on local cash aid distributions, the proletariat is forced to risk their lives to earn money.
We have, on average, at least 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day , and our total number of cases has skyrocketed to around 2.5 million . Our lockdowns did not prevent these figures from happening; the present restrictions are rather curative than preventive. Our leaders fail to look ahead and only act once the problem has already arisen. Consequently, the reactive nature of these responses has led to the crumbling of our already weak healthcare system. These lockdowns will not serve its purpose if we do not take the time to do inclusive and rigid mass testing, allot more funding to our healthcare sector, hasten inclusive vaccination rollout, and support research.
The mishandling and misappropriation of our national funds to red-tagging agencies and dubious acquisition of personal protective equipment further cripple our health care workers. Lockdown levels bear no substance in addressing the pandemic. Our lockdowns are mere placebos in different forms that do not really address the root of the problem. If we keep our health care workers undercompensated and if we continue to turn a blind eye to the dilapidated facilities of our public hospitals, we can never truly attain our country’s recovery from COVID-19.
Furthermore, the levels of lockdown or the so-called “community quarantine” (CQ) confounds human comprehension. Ponder on how interchangeable the different CQs are. There seems to be a thin negligible line between each classification and the general masses seem to have a hard time distinguishing one over the other.
The problem lies in the complicated naming scheme of these CQs and the constant addition of more terms that are very unfamiliar to the general masses. Little to no attention is given to make these terms understandable to the general masses. For example, the term “modified” in “modified general community quarantine (MGCQ)” creates a thin and almost negligible line between MGCQ and just GCQ. Also, just recently, the term “granular lockdown” was added to the quarantine classification. This poor naming scheme leads to personal interpretations of quarantine restrictions, causing misunderstanding between the masses and the authorities . Hiring linguists and interpreters can help bridge these gaps to the general masses or even come up with more relatable terms.
We do not need the “new” normal. What we need are scientific and research-based solutions to return to the true normal. As our so-called leaders try to enforce this new norm in our minds, it reflects their lack of responsibility and accountability. As we experience more shifts from one lockdown level to another and as new unnecessary CQs are made, let us not forget the future that they are stealing from us. The school years of struggle in online learning, the churning stomachs of hunger due to unemployment, and the countless deaths that crippled several families make up the story of our pandemic response. Their concept of the “new” normal is a dull abstraction especially to the proletariat. We want our bright normal. It is time to move forward to a more inclusive and empowering system backed with research-based responses and decision-making. It is time to stand up for tomorrow; it is time to demand concrete plans. It is time to take back our future.
 Hannah Ritchie, Edouard Mathieu, Lucas Rodés-Guirao, Cameron Appel, Charlie Giattino, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Joe Hasell, Bobbie Macdonald, Diana Beltekian and Max Roser (2020) — “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus
 Madarang, C.R. (2021, September 14). Safety concerns aired amid confusion over alert level system, granular lockdown scheme. PhilStar. https://interaksyon.philstar.com/politics-issues/2021/09/14/200080/safety-concerns-aired-amid-confusion-over-alert-level-system-granular-lockdown-scheme/
 Rivas, R. (2021, April 05). Lack of cash aid may force people to leave homes despite ECQ. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/business/lack-cash-aid-force-people-leave-homes-despite-ecq-march-april-2021
 Department of Health (2021). DOH COVID-19 Case bulletin # 577. COVID 19 Case Tracker. https://doh.gov.ph/covid-19/case-tracker